Becoming a Leader: 6 Pointers for New Leaders
When I was asked to write this article, I did a lot of thinking about the transition to being a leader. It’s a significant shift – suddenly your job isn’t to do your job; it’s to empower other people to carry out their work.
I started at Creative HQ in January 2019. I was super excited to be joining a team of people who were doing such cool things. I was also absolutely terrified. You see, Creative HQ marked the first time I was going to take on a long-term management role that wasn’t a short-term contract or done as part of being a project manager. I spent my summer reading books and countless Medium articles on how to be a good leader. I made lists of qualities I liked in leaders from my previous workplaces; I’d determined I didn’t need to wear heels (thank god). My motto became “you manage things, you lead people” and I wanted to figure out how to be a good leader, not just another manager. I’m sure you see where this is going… I discovered that there wasn’t much I could do to be a good leader except… be a leader.
There are some things that can make this transition a bit easier and it’s these things that I thought I’d share with you today.
Learn to let go
Honestly one of the hardest things about being a manager? Realising that I’m no longer responsible for DOING the job, I’m responsible for the PEOPLE doing the job. Don’t get me wrong; I love this role. I love helping people achieve cool things, and I love empowering people to do the work I know they can do. But it’s also really hard to sit back when you see someone doing something in a way you wouldn’t do it. It’s a damn hard thing letting go, but it’s so necessary otherwise you’re never going to be able to do the things you need to be doing as a manager.
Having a long-term plan is a necessity
Confession: I have never written a running budget in my life. And suddenly I was given a figure, and I needed to make it last all year without blowing it in the first quarter. And then before I can write a budget, I need to think up the strategy for the year that’s going to inform our activities. And then, you’ve got to figure out what your team is going to be able to work on over the course of the year and factor in when external events are happening. My top tip? Use Google! There are heaps of templates and ideas on how to make these documents. And also, ask people! I’ve asked so many questions and have found the majority of individuals are incredibly generous with their time.
You’re going to get it wrong, sometimes
Becoming a manager is an exhilarating time. You’ve got the power to effect change, make an impact on an organisation and guide a team towards bigger and better things. But, you are going to make mistakes, and that is 100% ok. Being a great leader is something I need to work towards every single day – and I am not there yet! I’m abrupt, I don’t always have enough patience, and I can go on the defensive in situations where I don’t need to be defensive. These are all things I’m working on and knowing that I’m going to get things wrong in my journey to being a great leader gives me comfort that I’ll get there one day.
You need to set goals for your team, and yourself
A big part of management is working with your team to develop their goals and while you’re doing this, it’s important to keep your eyes on your own goals as well. I’ve become a proponent of having a three-year plan – mostly because five is way too many, but three seems just about right. And knowing how my current role fits in with my plans inspires me to be a better manager.
Leadership is about empowerment
To me, good leadership is about empowering people to be the best version of themselves. You should be trying to build confidence to do their job the best they can. I think one of the easiest ways we can do that is acknowledgement. Acknowledge that they’re doing something well, whether it’s just to them or their manager or even in public. I try to do this on a regular basis, regardless of whether they are on my team or not (we all work for the same company after all).
Another part of empowerment is knowing what your team wants to achieve. I do a quarterly check-in on each team member’s Professional Development Plan which outlines what the person wants to do, how they’re going to do it and how Creative HQ can help them. I find that knowing what a person wants to achieve means that I can delegate projects that I know they’ll enjoy and be enough of a stretch that it will feel like an achievement when they pull it off. I think being a good leader is about having faith in your team that they can achieve their goals.
There’s always someone you can ask for help
I’m exceptionally fortunate to have a manager who is an outstanding leader (so great we interviewed him about it) and knowing that I can chat with him anytime has made such a difference to my work life. What I’ve learned over the past eight months is that being a manager is the easy bit. It’s being a leader that is the hard bit. Ultimately though, it’s also the most rewarding.