Hi, I am Mrinal (back again!) and this week the topic is Leadership. I have always been intrigued by this word. Ever since I started thinking about my career, I wanted to learn all about how to be a good leader. And FAST.
I read every piece of information on leadership that I could get my hands on, started going to networking events and also gatecrashed a few. I even joined a leadership development organization with the hope of discovering the secrets of leadership. Like it was some magic potion that was available to only a few in this world. It at least seemed like that at first.
I also happened to ‘accidentally’ stumble upon elevated minds at private gatherings and parties, who seemed to have gulped down the elixir of Leadership that I so desperately wanted.
Even better, I DMed Pooja (Dhingra) and a few other business leaders to ask if I could work as their Executive Assistant for free for a month.
It would be safe to say that I did absolutely everything I could, to ensure that I constantly read about and surrounded myself with good leaders that I could learn from and I am so thankful to have gone through that as I gained a lot of insights and learnings from each of these experiences.
So I just thought that it would be interesting if I could share my experiences, learnings, failures, self-discovered myths and personal insights from my very brief leadership experiences as if I were sharing it with my younger self.
So here are 5 points about leadership that I would like to tell my younger self. I hope that it is useful and makes you think, at the very least. Enjoy!
1. Tread with caution: Leadership is very hard, very very lonely at times, heartbreaking at other times, can take you to some really dark places, an extremely humbling experience besides being a full-time job.
I once read the parallels between parenting and leadership on the internet and this provided a very different and interesting perspective about leadership to me. Perhaps this might help – While everyone has the capacity and capability to be a parent much like everyone has the capacity and capability to be a leader, not everyone can and should be a parent in the same manner that not everyone can and will be a good leader.
I think of this to be so true! You are constantly riddled with the best way to interact, lead or to even just be, pondering over any mistakes that you might have knowingly or unknowingly made, gulping down your ego, choosing ‘the right thing to do’ over ‘being right’ and prioritizing someone else’s emotions over yours. AT ALL TIMES. There is no switching off.
It requires a lot of patience and there are no secret formulas, just small consistent steps. While the reason behind choosing this path mostly is egotistical, the very path will ensure an absolute ego-crushing experience. The irony!
So before deciding to embark on this journey, please know that it is going to be a very bumpy ride and most importantly, you don’t HAVE to be a part of it – Being a good manager or a boss can more than get your job done.
But if you do choose to stick with it, it will also be one of the most enriching experience if you let it be.
2. Think of empathy as THE sharpest tool to hone your leadership skills and use humor to keep yourself sane when empathy fails: Empathy goes a long way in all human relationships and is also true for leadership. Although the relationship between a leader and her/his tribe might sound hierarchical, the truth is it is not.
Every single day, the leader has to prove herself/himself worthy of leading and the tribe member or the follower has to prove herself/himself worthy of being led. The relationship unlike that of a boss and an employee starts and ends with freedom and choice on both sides.
To be a good leader, you must learn to deploy empathy during unfavorable, pressurizing and difficult conditions. But this is just one part of using empathy as the sharpest tool.
The other part is that you must also learn to activate empathy from your team towards yourself otherwise this relationship is a lopsided one and has high chances of sinking.
Like deploying empathy towards others during difficult times wasn’t hard enough, now you will have to also activate empathy from your team! Good luck with that.
You will fail a lot of times along the way, and when you do, please humor yourself and take everything with a pinch of salt to stay sane and get back up faster every time. Just be sure to replace a pinch with ten bags of salt! You will need it.
3. There is NO ‘supposed’ to be: You will read and hear of different qualities that a good leader must have, along with so many definitions of what a good leader is or should be. Yet you will see many examples of successful and powerful leaders who demonstrate opposite qualities that do not fit any of the preached notions or definitions.
Contrary to what we think, there is NO ‘supposed’ to be in leadership. Leadership as a concept if stripped away from all its attached glorious jargons is about leading people. Both, leading styles and the kind of people that you will lead ought to/will be different every time.
Look at it in this manner, like a motorbike mechanic needs different tools to work on different parts of the bike, in the same manner, you will gain if you expand your leadership tool kit to lead different varieties of people.
Do not judge any tools in the same manner that a mechanic does not judge his, for you will not learn any tool that you judge or resist and in turn, will end up limiting yourself. Sometimes you will have to use a hammer and sometimes just a pat on the back will do and that is totally okay.
4. You cannot lead everyone you meet, stop fooling yourself and know when to give up: Sometimes you might not be the right kind of leader for someone and sometimes people might just outgrow you and at that particular time you need to happily let them go their own path for you have done your work here.
Have a vision for the kind of leader you want to be and add ground rules to it pertaining to your DOs and DONTs. Stay focused on the goal at hand and do not let your ego overshadow your vision or goal by tricking you into believing that you can provide all the solutions. You can’t and you won’t!
Your ability to recognize at what point someone is better off without you and when to give up will go a long way and that will be one of the hardest lessons that you will learn. Just embrace it.
5. Sometimes, accepting certain feedback can lead you in the wrong direction: You will want to constantly seek feedback to learn and grow your leadership abilities which is great. However, not all feedback needs to be taken seriously.
Taking every feedback that comes your way seriously, can lead to clouding of judgment with the added risk of steering you to a wrong path. Instead, use your leadership vision to act as a GPS system when you are navigating feedback.
Accept all kinds of feedback graciously. Sort out useful feedback from useless – sometimes the right feedback will come to you with the wrong packaging. Have the humility to accept the right feedback, act on it and have the courage and knowledge to discard the rest.
What would you tell your younger self about leadership? Let me know in the comments section below. Looking forward to learning from each one of you.