By Florian Bay, Toastmasters International
People often ask me if I enjoy being a senior leader in my organization and my answer is invariably ‘Yes I do.’ Leadership is an amazing experience but it can be hard, and people often harbor unrealistic expectations about what is involved.
Image: Jump Story
So here’s what you need to know about leadership – before becoming a leader:
Leadership Will Test You
Everybody comes to leadership with some skills and knowledge – most of which will be useful in some shape or form. For instance, if you’re good with numbers, this will help you make certain decisions; if you’re good with people, it will help bond with your peers and your team.
However, you may not have all the skills that your role requires. Sometimes, you’ll have the opportunity to leverage your strengths into super strengths which, in turn, will mitigate your weaknesses. Despite this, it’s likely that at some point you’ll need to step-up and embrace new tasks and learn new skills.
Attitude Over Aptitude
You might be great at communicating with others, generating new ideas, or developing detailed strategies by analyzing information – but you’ll be judged more on your attitude towards your role than on your skills.
Time is often at a premium – we can feel we don’t have time to deal with certain queries, or perhaps we feel swamped by a ‘problem’ that has landed on our desk. Attitude is about the way you tackle these challenges and constraints; it’s about how you approach your role and take on its responsibilities.
Jumping both feet forward into a new role or situation will definitely help you, regardless of your abilities. Nowadays, mountains of information on any subject are readily available, use these resources to plug any knowledge gap and find out more about your role and your task. If you chose to lead, make some commitments to yourself and accept the weight of expectations placed upon you.
It’s All About Detail
The visible parts of leadership are the grand visions, the speeches, meetings with colleagues, inspiring and motivating your team, seeing your vision realized – but behind this lies hundreds, if not thousands, of hours work, often spend discussing tiny details that may not seem important to a casual observer.
In my corporate strategy days, I often spent a lot of time looking for first-hand sources of information and double-checking it afterward. The process took time and wasn’t always rewarding. However, it was worth it as the result was fantastic documents that our senior leadership team used to drive the business forward.
Number-crunching and information gathering is a big part of strategic leadership. Small details, like how something is worded, can be of great importance when developing organization-wide policy and protocols. But remember, there is a line between too much detail and not focusing on detail at all.
Leading Can Be Physically and Emotionally Challenging
As a senior leader, I enjoy traveling to meet other people across the UK. These visits are a unique opportunity to soak up knowledge while inspiring others and passing on key messages. But the traveling, being away from home, constantly jumping from train to hotel to train again – and burning the midnight oil to prepare for the following day’s presentation – can be exhausting.
While the physical cost of leadership can be mitigated with strong personal discipline and good time management, the emotional costs are more difficult to predict. Unintended conflicts, being let down, having to take on extra work to support a colleague – these can all take their toll. Decision-making fatigue is another key problem – sometimes even having to decide what to have for dinner can seem like a decision too far! So, make a commitment to look after yourself – if you allow yourself to get burnt out, you won’t be much use as a leader.
Human relations can be the hardest part of leadership; from disappointing friends to giving difficult feedback. Strong people skills and high emotional intelligence will help, but even this can only do so much. So be prepared for the strains that leadership will inevitably bring.
Knowing the challenges that being a leader can bring, should you embark on the leadership journey? Only you know the answer to this question. Personally, I don’t regret the decision; the journey has been an eventful one and isn’t even over yet. I’ve grown along the way and become a better person, as a result. Being a leader can be highly rewarding and may even be the best thing you ever do in your professional life.
Florian Bay is District 91 Director of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland.
Members follow a structured educational program to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit Toastmasters International.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.