I read articles on leadership daily; they range from tips on becoming the best leader to how to lead high performing teams, the difference between a leader and a manager, etc. Leadership interests me a lot, because I’ve always filled leadership roles or an advisory role to leaders. In my own company I am a leader, and to my clients, as their Public Relations Consultant, I am an adviser.
I find leadership exciting and complicated. I believe that wherever you find yourself, in the best or worst places with the best or worst leaders, there is always an opportunity to learn.
In this article, I share some of the leadership lessons I learnt from the most intriguing leaders that I would never forget.
1. Figure it out.
One leader gave me access to the internet, access to a shared drive, and briefs for multiple projects, each brief was a one-liner. My manager’s advice was this: ‘figure it out.’ I received no help or additional information unless I asked for it. Thanks to this leader, I learnt to figure it out. I had to learn to think about the project, the needs of the project, how I was going to make it happen, and who I needed on my team to make it happen. I had to ask a lot of questions. Although this leader didn’t know it, they empowered me by forcing me to think for myself, and they gave me room to create something new, something I could say was mine. With their lack of help, I was able to develop my career portfolio; a portfolio I could honestly say was my ideas and my work – this set the tone for the rest of my career. This leader helped me to ‘hit the ground running’ wherever I went. Today, I can make things happen. In the media space, with daily deadlines, this experience is crucial. Sink or swim. You only have two choices.
2. It’s lonely at the top.
When I first heard this, I thought it was just a random statement. I didn’t view it as advice at the time. However, looking back at the context of the comment, this leader probably gave me the most valuable leadership advice for the future. Wherever you look, the picture painted of leadership is glamorous and affluent. I don’t trust anyone who paints a dazzling picture of leadership, because if it’s glamorous, it means you’re not leading. Leadership tests your character and it is a lonely business. If you assume a leadership role, you fill one of a few positions at the top. If you’re good at what you do, you face adversity from all sides, top and bottom, and from jealous peers and subordinates. There will always be someone trying to push or drag you down, to clear the way or make room at the top. As a young leader, this leader gave me the wake-up call I needed; watch your back, trust no one, expect the worst, but always look for the best in the people you serve.
3. Ask forgiveness later.
When you work in an organisation, where the words, ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ reigns supreme, you must learn to push the boundaries, to make everyone else see what is possible. You must become fearless in your pursuit of excellence, paving the way, and risk being wrong. When you have the power to make decisions, then decide. Be decisive. Never go outside your area of power but use the power you have and make the kind of decisions that will drive your organisation to the next level. Don’t ask permission when you’re in control. If your choice turns out to be wrong, “ask forgiveness later.” I didn’t quite understand this leader’s advice at the time I received it; he was always breaking the rules. However, within context, it now makes sense.
Leadership tests you. I don’t believe that there is one recipe for becoming a great leader. I think leadership is contextual; it’s about the people you serve and what they need to succeed at that specific point in time. I can’t remember one single leader that taught me everything I know about leadership. Still, I can remember little nuggets of wisdom from multiple leaders who were all weird, unique and brilliant in their unusual ways.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to imprint some nuggets of wisdom on the people you lead, make an impression and be memorable.
Comment below and share some of your leadership nuggets of wisdom. I'd love to hear your thoughts.