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Importance Lessons of Being a Great Leader

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

As I reflect upon the last huddle with my team, their gratitude and sincerity humble me. I’m touched by how they both admired and were inspired by my leadership. A CEO once told me that leadership "isn't in a title," and those words have never rung truer. Considering my future, it is clear that my heart is most fulfilled when I can mentor and lead a team. These lessons are inspired by the kind words my team shared and what they mean to me. I write them here so I can always remember.

Believe in Others, Especially When They Don’t Believe in Themselves

One of my favorite quotes is, “Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.” I call upon these words to learn and improve everyday.

During our first weekly check-in, I surveyed team members to understand their professional goals. This allowed us to ensure they were on a path to learning, and I discovered what ignited their passion. Clear expectations and KPIs were established, enabling us to measure our growth and successes together. In that vision, their potential also became clear. It was crucial to see them for what they were destined to be each day, fostering courage in each step.

Transparency Builds Trust

Balancing shielding the team from typical politics or company struggles while being a genuine human is crucial. It's important to share frustrations upward and never gossip. Negativity can easily become contagious, so creating a positive and productive work environment is critical. The strongest bonds with my teams were formed in moments where I could say, "This is tough. I am not okay. This is temporary, but here is what I am experiencing and what I need." It's delivered in a tone of hope, not judgment, so they can understand and weather the storm with you. This is what creates trust and loyalty.

Always Be Fierce and Confident

My boss once told me that, as a woman in tech, I would face challenges. Confidence must be my main objective. Although I'm not a fan of accepting gender differences in the workplace, I acknowledge the extra effort I've made to obtain the same trust and autonomy. I've learned that you can be equally confident in what you don’t know as in what you do. Stay grounded in the certainty that the end goal will be delivered, and have no doubt that, as Marie Forleo says, "everything is figureoutable." Fierce confidence also means calm grace. In each moment, look at your challenge or challenger in the eye and be confident that you are in that seat for a reason. Remain focused and be the master of your state. It’s this constant perseverance and poised demeanor that encourages a team to do the same.

Listen Closely, Especially When You Don't Agree

I gained honest admiration for one of my favorite leaders and mentors when sitting in a conference room with the creative team, notorious for difficulties with the ecommerce team. This leader entered the room with confident grace and friendly curiosity. (I just realized who I learned that from.) When met with pushback about a certain initiative, I remember him using phrases like, "What I hear you saying is…", "I agree with you that…", and "This initiative achieves…". Sometimes, when there is disagreement, the true concern is not properly surfaced. By repeating back what you heard, it minimizes defensiveness in the other person and ensures you understand exactly what the hesitation is. Everyone is usually marching toward the same goal, so acknowledging the concern and agreeing with the common ground creates unity again.

Many of us have likely heard and used this tool many times before. There were a couple tough situations last year where I learned how to take this lesson one step further. Team members brought me new ideas for initiatives on the site. Caught up in the stress of my own roadmaps and solutions, I admittedly disregarded them. They would be tough to flesh out the full journey and execute properly. I didn't have confidence the impact would be worth the effort. Later I learned the deeper intention behind their ideas.

They were looking to help, but there were also themes of fear, insecurities, and something to prove. Even if the idea would never come to fruition, at least taking the time to ask more questions would have given me more insights. I could have guided them in how to think of a stronger solution so they would maintain the courage to share again. I would have also heard a lot more than just an idea.

Maintain Empathy and Never Judge

I didn't expect how vulnerable it can feel being a leader. Suddenly sitting out in front, you can become the target of projected frustrations that have nothing to do with you. It can get intimidating when your agenda or plan is challenged, especially in front of an entire group of team members. I was surprised to learn that some people will just not like you, and you'll never understand why.

I had to learn to release the need for pleasing people and focus instead on ensuring each person was set up for success in their part of the plan. I had to accept that the plan may not be perfect, but I could still find success. I had to release the need to defend, and always maintain that calm. No one ever wins with anger, and there's not much to say against grace.

And finally, in those moments of judgment or anger, I would take a moment and just breathe in empathy. How many times have we made an assumption that was false? Or learned there was so much more going on with a team member or friend that had nothing to do with you? Accept things for the way they are, that we may never truly understand, and stay grounded in your one truth; you are a great leader and here to do that above all else.

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