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Not-So-Bloody Lessons for Leadership

Contrary to popular belief, none of us are born into this world naked, screaming, covered in blood, and ready to lead teams. Not even me. Everyone has that moment as a new leader. That doesn’t mean you need to walk into that experience unprepared. In fact, the better prepared you are, the less likely you’ll end up naked, screaming, and covered in blood again. So, let’s discuss mistakes to avoid as a new leader:

  1. Having All the Answers: Many new leaders believe they need to have all the answers. A good leader doesn’t have all the answers—just access to all the answers. A great leader surrounds themselves with knowledgeable people who provide the understanding they do not possess. In time, with experience, leaders learn more, but more importantly they know how to get the answers faster. You have a team for a reason.
  1. Never Saying No: Lots of brand-new leaders, and even not-so-new leaders, have trouble saying no or, going back to the above point, “I don’t know.” The need to impress others, and not disappoint, causes people to agree to things they cannot deliver on or have no idea about. Instead of taking the time to check with their team and see what is doable, they promise impossible features or delivery dates. This sets up your team for failure and disappointment. Worse, you’re overpromising and underdelivering. I believe strongly in credibility, and this damages yours on multiple fronts. Take the time to be better informed and start off by underpromising and overdelivering to build a good reputation.
  1. Changing Things Right Away: The desire to make an impact for new leaders is real and understandable. Instead of getting the lay of the land and seeing what the team or company needs, many new leaders make changes to impress others. Sometimes leaders are just brought in to maintain the status quo, and that is okay. Look for low-hanging fruit for wins instead, by learning from your boss, your direct reports, and your own observations. Do not assume.
  1. Leading from Afar: Some new leaders keep their distance, so that they lack presence. They deliver orders and commands to the team, but never check in or see how the work is going with the team. They’re simply waiting for results. While a self-driven team is something many leaders strive for, they still require your support and presence. You need to be watching out for the things they can’t see, communicating to them regularly, and supporting them when they encounter obstacles.
  1. Never Letting Go: Often new leaders were promoted from a more hands-on job. Just because someone is a good developer or artist doesn’t always mean they’ll be good at leading a team. That aside, it is often hard to fully let go of what or how you did things before. Leading means you aren’t able to do the work yourself. Let go of the urge to do it yourself, because it would be faster, easier, or because you are the only one who can do it. You need to delegate. Nobody enjoys micromanagement.
  1. Acting like a Buddy Instead of a Leader: You can be friendly with your team, but you don’t have to be their friend. I have worked with bosses who never wanted to be the bad guy, so they got other people to do the dirty work (discipline, bad news, firing). It isn’t dirty work—it is what comes with taking responsibility for the decisions you made and need to own. The other side of this is that it confuses your employees, who push the boundaries of your relationship to see what they can get away with because you are their “friend.” Find the balance of genuinely caring for your team while maintaining the boundaries that are needed to have those tough talks.
  1. Ignoring Feedback: Chances are, you’ll have a boss, mentor, or peer in your job. If you’re doing something wrong, they’ll let you know. Ideally, you are seeking feedback on how to do better, but if this feedback comes to you unsolicited, all the more reason to heed their words. Many new leaders think they know better, or just ignore the words of advice and end up making things worse. We should always be learning, no matter where we are in our career, but especially when we are new.

You were promoted or hired for your leadership role because someone believed you could do the job. Learn what you don’t know, grow in experience, and stumble but don’t fall. Everyone makes mistakes and the key is not to repeat them. Anyone can be a leader, but leadership isn’t for everyone and that is okay too. If leadership is something you enjoy, learn everything you can about it. If not, pursue what you do enjoy instead. If anything, hopefully these tips keep you from having to be naked, screaming and covered in blood, unless of course that’s your thing then who am I to judge. You do you boo.

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