Four Difficult Things They Don’t Tell You About Leadership - Part 2

Are you a leader who feels leadership has given you the bait and switch? Did you find more difficulties than expected when you stepped into your leadership role?

There’s a high likelihood you’re not the only one.

In part one of this post ( I mention four things that surprised me about leadership because people don’t talk about these difficult realities.

In this continuation, we discuss ways to prevent these difficulties from being the entirety of your leadership experience so we can take control of how we lead.

Here are some solutions that have reshaped my leadership experience:

Leadership isn’t about tasks.

This one is all about balance. Most new leaders only know how to accomplish tasks because, like me, that’s all they knew before becoming a leader. For a while now, leadership research has given a lot of negative attention to task-oriented leadership and accolades to people-oriented leadership. Newer research suggests that neither one by itself is the answer ( ). The answer isn’t in one or the other, but balancing both. As such, here are a few pointers I’ve found helpful:

  • The sweet spot I’ve found lies in most days focusing on three things: (1) guiding and helping my teammates complete their tasks, (2) building relationships, and (3) visioning, planning, and communicating the future.

  • I have redistributed daily tasks so I have more flexibility if questions or ideas come up.

  • I leave my door open as much as possible to encourage what I call “stop by brilliance.”

  • Time is blocked off every day in my calendar to accomplish basic tasks, such as email.

  • Project days are scheduled where I let my team know I’m available remotely while I focus on a large project outside of the office.

Leaders can’t know everything.

This one involves shifting focus - focus from me to others. The pressure to know everything comes from ego, the need to look good to others. It’s a control thing. Perfectionists (like me) suffer greatly from this pressure. To work through this difficulty, it is best to practice two things as often as possible (even daily):

  1. Create a phrase that you will use when you are asked a question you don’t know. Mine is along the lines of, “I don’t know. I will look into that.” This gives permission to not know something while giving the mind an “out” that still feels like control.

  2. Know your resources. These include your people’s skills, industry tools, listserv groups, knowledge management systems, etc. The point is to become familiar with and create as many resources as possible to give confidence in finding an answer.

Leadership is lonely.

This one is rough. Loneliness is a reality because there are less peers the higher you move up in leadership. The solution to this requires intentionality. You must seek out peers. Look for a mentor, a peer group of leaders on social media, attend leadership conferences, and subscribe to leadership podcasts. The more you soak yourself in leadership environments, the more support is available to you, the more loneliness lessens.

Leadership never ends.

Leadership is a long game. An infinite game, as Simon Sinek says. When you are aware of the fact you cannot control the players or the rules because they keep changing, your attitude adjusts to focus on the long haul. The frustrations and excitements of today are placed in light of tomorrow, next week, and five years from now. This attitude drives leaders to build more leaders, because they realize they cannot be the end all. If this game of leadership is an ongoing experience, then we need more leaders who will take the charge forward both now and when the current players leave.

What’s the takeaway? Authentic leaders understand the following about these four areas of difficulty:

  • They know how and why tasks are completed, but do not spend all of their time completing tasks; their time is spent being with their team (which may include tasks on occasion).

  • They look for how they can find answers without feeling they need to know everything.

  • They seek peer groups and mentors to find colleagues along the long and often lonely road of leadership.

  • They understand they are merely a piece of a portion of time in the long game of leadership and intentionally create more leaders and strong infinite game players.

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