I just finished reading How to Lead: Wisdom from the World’s Greatest CEOs, Founders, and Game Changers by David Rubenstein. Reading about the different types of leaders, plus their very diverse leadership styles, really got me thinking.
When I started my first company in 2008, I never thought about what being a leader meant. To me, a leader was simply someone who was in charge and got things done. I never explored the intricacies of how this happened. And so, I approached leadership as I did project work in school, and assumed everyone was equally motivated in getting the job done. I “led” the only way I knew how – as a friend, a peer, a teammate. This would have worked great if everyone were indeed equally driven, but it doesn’t take human quirks into account.
The approach worked at the start, when everyone was fresh and out to impress. The problems started when people got too comfortable, or on days when they were not in the mood to work. Deadlines were missed, and the backlog piled up. People came in late and left early, with no regard for unmet project timelines. I was unhappy, but I did not know how to admonish – I treated them as friends and equals, after all – plus (and I am a little embarrassed to admit this), I did not want to be the “bad guy”.
These days, I have learnt that it is possible to be approachable, yet draw the line to help get things done. I still struggle with being overly-friendly to the point of being a pushover, but it is clearer to me now the steps that must be taken.
The other lesson learnt was the need to tailor my style to each individual. While many creatives enjoy the liberties they have working with me, I was surprised that others liked being more closely managed and guided every step of the way. This didn’t come naturally to me, and was something I had to learn to do.
The best leaders are aware of their strengths and inadequacies. They are able to effectively delegate tasks in areas where they fall short. The greatest lesson I learnt is to first practise self-leadership. Because life and work are so intertwined now, it’s essential to set one’s own course, follow it, and correct it along the way, in order to be an effective leader.
Learning to lead oneself before leading others is really at the heart of good leadership. Being meticulous, motivated and inspired is the way to motivate, encourage and hopefully inspire joy at work.
This story was first published in the Her World March 2021 issue.