Imagine your life as two levels.
Level One: Follow
Level Two: Lead
Leadership can seem as though a person must be born with the wings of an angel. It can seem out of reach, difficult and not worth pursuing. I thought this once too. Becoming a leader was the last thing on my mind. It seemed pointless.
Then, in a moment that resembles the unveiling of a Picasso painting for the very first time, I saw the truth: leadership is obtainable. You don’t have to have any experience or be born with a god-like sense of likability.
I was always a follower in my career. Then, level two became interesting. Was it really that hard? Could a novice play the game and find the secret to winning?
During that Picasso moment, someone I admired told me how they became a leader. It wasn’t what I expected. They became a leader by first understanding this core principle that unlocks everything else about leadership.
That core principle is this: leadership is serving others before yourself.
This principle was somewhat revolutionary to a kid born in the Kangaroo Country of Australia, mate. If that was at the heart of it all, how many people like me were failing to try level two all because they didn’t know this?
My journey of leadership began from here. Now I lead people for a living and also do the same role online as a blogger which has helped me navigate what the basics of leadership are for those who haven’t done it before.
If you haven’t been a leader before, this is what you need to know:
Whoever came up with the word ‘leader’ made a mistake. They should have written the meaning of leadership as two words: role model.
That’s what a leader is. Your job is to role model the right behaviors. You do this by the way you talk, the decisions you make, and most of all, how you treat other people — especially those people who don’t directly serve your cause or in some cases are total strangers.
That’s right, your treatment of strangers demonstrates what you stand for.
That JFK moment where he asks the cleaner what he’s doing and he says “I’m helping put a man on the moon” is a perfect example. JFK treats the cleaner with respect and asks his opinions while others with his job title may have chosen to ignore the janitor.
Don’t get pissed off in front of everybody.
The myth of a leader is that they never get pissed off most days and seem calm. This is BS.
Leaders know that it’s best not to get angry or say something you’ll regret in public. This doesn’t mean leaders don’t get angry too; it’s just that they understand how to control it rather than let it control them.
A leaders job is to get people to do stuff.
That’s how it was explained to me when I tried to become a school captain in primary school and asked the former school captain for their advice. Getting stuff done is glorified. Many everyday tasks are not as glamorous as putting a human on the moon yet they still need to be done.
The way a leader does this is by positioning a goal in a way that is inspiring.
That could be something as simple as linking the calling of customers with someone’s career plan to be a championship golfer or using the task of compiling spreadsheets as a step in the process of overcoming a major battle with anxiety.
You inspire people by the way you link what they do to what matters to them.
You use your own stories that people can relate to and focus on how it helped you, instead of how the world is cruel and messed up.
Inspiration is just a pair of glasses you wear. These glasses see the good in everything rather than the other way round.
Look people in the eye
The power of looking someone in the eye is immensely powerful. It’s the most vulnerable we can be. It’s where all the stories you tell as a leader are communicated from.
Looking someone in the eye and telling them “We’ll do this” or “I got your back” is the place in which trust is built.
Through the whites of your eyes, you can tell people the most difficult things about themselves without shying away from the truth.
Eye contact is honesty.
Having people follow you requires you to communicate why you’re the person to lead. Stories are the best way to impart wisdom on the people you serve.
People won’t follow you unless they can relate to you and stories create that relationship. Find out what troubles your people and then provide a solution through telling a story about how it has been solved before.
Genuinely care about people
Show your team you care in the following ways:
- Eat lunch with them
- Play ping pong with them
- Send them a message when they get sick
- Be there for their mothers funeral
- Congratulate them when they have their first child
These are the small ways you can show people you care. When you care about people, they care about you and respect your direction.
Be clear what you stand for
The whole act of following someone starts with what they stand for.
If you like a leader, but they stand for something that’s not you, you won’t follow them. You can’t stand for everything. What do you want people to know you for?
Get in the trenches
True leadership is about ditching the overused prison of hierarchy.
People follow you when you show them that you are just like them. That’s why I never ask someone to do something I’m not prepared to do myself. I love spending a day in the life of my team. It shows me their challenges and allows me to be compassionate when things go wrong.
If all you do is preach and never do the hard yards — or it has been years since you’ve done the hard yards — people won’t follow you.
Show people that you don’t believe in hierarchy by doing what they do. As a leader, you’re not better than your team who follow you. What they do, you do.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Just because you’re the leader, it doesn’t mean you have all the answers.
It’s okay to ask for help and that doesn’t make you any less of a leader. Leaders realize that they can’t do their job without the support of people who have the skills they are lacking. Leadership is a team sport. Ask for help.
Delegate tasks thoughtfully
Some leaders make the mistake of trying to do everything and be everywhere. This leads to overwhelm and burnout. Delegating is part of the job description.
A little hack I’ve learned is to delegate thoughtfully by picking tasks that also support the personal interests of my team.
If someone has a goal to learn negotiation, delegate out your next negotiation or let them join you. Be thoughtful about allocating tasks based on what your people care about. Being thoughtful like this builds an unwavering level of loyalty.
Be okay with not doing everything well
I suck at spreadsheets. That’s why I shout it from the rooftop.
Nobody can be truly good at everything no matter their education. You have a list of strengths and weaknesses. So do I, so does Elon Musk and so do your team. Don’t forget that.
Praise but don’t forget to have the hard conversations
Otherwise, you’ll end up being a marshmallow. Overly soft, yummy in small doses, but no good for overall nutrition.
Praising is important and so is having the tough conversations when someone isn’t giving their best. People appreciate when you have the tough conversations with them because that’s where they can draw all their future growth from.
If all you do is praise and high-five everyone, your team will never learn anything.
The best learning is done under pressure or in uncomfortable circumstances which will ultimately lead to hard conversations when the results fall in the not so great category.
Keep it simple
A few key goals are all you need.
Leaders that say they are going to do it all almost always end up doing not much. People lose faith in people that promise the world and don’t deliver anything tangible.
Delivery as a leader comes from focus. Focus is built, from experience, by having no more than three simple things you want your team to achieve.
Know there will be a few people who don’t like you
This is not told to you from the start.
As a leader, you’ll have some people that love you, some that don’t love you or hate you and then some people that think everything you do sucks.
Your job as a leader is not to have everyone love you. It is your job, though, to have people respect you regardless if they disagree with what you stand for.
Having said that, you’ll also have some people that don’t even fit into this category and just hate you because their own life sucks and hating you fills some void in them that you could never predict nor should you ever attempt to understand.
Learn to love everybody not just the people who agree with you.
You’ll learn an awful lot from people who disagree or even hate you.
That’s leadership in a nutshell for those who haven’t done it before. Give level two a go. It’s a whole different ball game.
The world needs more leaders.