When I entered my career, I was idealistic like most college graduates. I assumed that if I had good ideas, people would naturally follow me. They’d get on board with my leadership and help me reach the goals we set. It wasn’t long before I realized I was looking at life through rose-colored glasses. Leading teams was difficult. Even good people disagree with each other. Many don’t keep their promises. Some quit. I will never forget when I first realized that (despite what my mother believed) not everyone even liked me. I also learned the hard lesson that there is a difference between being “liked as a friend” and being “followed as a leader.”
So I began to scribble down simple but profound lessons I was learning through the “School of Hard Knocks.” The following might be helpful to ponder as you teach your students or lead your team. In fact, the following observations could be a discussion starter in your next team meeting.
What I Wish Someone Told Me Earlier About Leadership:
- It’s About Managing Tensions
Even when working with good teams of people, tensions arise. It isn’t that they are diametrically opposed to each other. In fact, everyone may be working toward the same vision. A leader is needed to manage tensions between one perspective and another. When teammates see an issue even a little differently, it can drive a wedge between them. Good leaders help teams manage the tension between two important tasks, ideas, or approaches to a problem.
- It’s About Managing Expectations
Every person begins a career, a project, or a relationship with expectations. Often, we’re not even aware we have them. These expectations, however, are what create happiness or disappointment. They foster anger, antagonism or refusal to cooperate. People get upset, not when they simply cannot achieve a goal, but when someone fails to meet an expectation. You might say: life with other people is pretty much about managing expectations. This is why leaders work to create no illusions in team expectations. When we have no illusions, it’s difficult to get disillusioned.
- It’s About Managing Talent
In a day when we’re afraid of litigation and we fear being politically incorrect, some leaders have been diverted from the essential task of leadership: to find and manage the talent on the team. Effective leaders know this issue is not merely finding gifted people. (There are many gifted people that don’t fit your culture). Good leaders find and blend each talent with the rest of the team. Olympic coach Herb Brooks said, “I’m not looking for the best players. I’m looking for the right players.” He meant that a highly talented renegade can do as much harm as good.
- It’s About Managing Priorities
My friend, Steve Moore, recently revealed an interesting fact. Up until a century ago, the term “priorities” was never used. The word was only used in its singular form. After all, by definition, there can only be one priority. Only in modern times have we adopted the idea there can be multiple priorities at the same time. This requires leaders to manage them, acknowledging that all projects are important, but some must come first, to enable the others to happen.
- It’s About Managing Opportunities
Most organizations survive because they are good at achieving their mission. And if you’re good, you have more opportunities thrown at you than you can handle well. Opportunities present the need for boundaries. Strong vision. Clear focus. This makes the job of choosing between all of your opportunities paramount. Effective leaders recognize how to make the best decisions based on the return their stakeholders expect. It’s not about what makes you feel good, or about liking your job. Those results hopefully come when leaders choose well and see opportunities bear fruit.
OK leaders. How well do you live these leadership essentials? What would you add to this list?
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