Leadership is a journey of continuous improvement. In fact, it's a lifelong process filled with lots of learning on a daily basis. Therefore, I believe there's really no one-best-person who can embody the perfect meaning of what a leader is. However, we can all strive to be the best that we can be, day by day.
In my three years of being a leader in my organization, handling a total of ten awesome individuals, I've learned several lessons that I'd like to share with you. Whether you're just starting to lead your own team, or you dream to lead a team in the future, I hope these seven points will serve as thought-starters for you.
1. A Leader is more than just a Manager
Spelling aside, a "leader" and a "manager" are two management terms often mixed up by many. While a Manager is meant to plan, organize, and coordinate the tasks of his team members, a Leader inspires and motivates them. As such, a Leader therefore shouldn't be making his team members work for him, but follow him in the path to success.
In my first few years of being the Head of the team, I delegated tasks and ensured that all deliverables were completed on time. While each member was able to deliver their respective outputs, I realized they needed to understand the bigger picture and deeper sense as to why those tasks were assigned to them, and what those are for. By knowing how their role and outputs impact the business, it made more sense for them to accomplish their tasks with quality, rather than just simply finishing them for the sake of doing so.
2. A Leader is self-less
Humans are naturally selfish. That's why becoming a Leader challenges one to be a man for others. Being a self-less Leader means spending the most precious thing in the world -- our time -- to hear others, to mentor them, and to disciple them.
I'm not afraid to admit that I'm also selfish. There were times I wanted to hide in a room to concentrate on my own tasks, and be able to go home earlier. However, my conscience often slaps me in the face and tells me that I must ensure my team members get to approach me when they need anything from me.
I remember one time when my team members wanted to spend time with their families during the Yuletide season. As I was thinking about my situation, I knew that I didn't have any planned family events. I then decided to take their place and work in behalf of them during the holidays -- that is of course after aligning expectations moving forward and telling them about the evolving business needs.
|Image from Purpose Driven Life|
3. A Leader must have a purpose
Knowing your purpose in life is key. Ask yourself: what is that one thing that I want to keep doing in my lifetime? What and why do I have to do it? What's the first step in doing it? How do I want others to remember me? As you step back and answer these questions, you'll get to your very core, your foundation.
As a young leader, I have so many aspirations for and expectations about myself. It sometimes leads me to become frustrated at myself and others. Thankfully, having known and believed my real purpose in life always brings me back to what I should be doing, and how I should do it. Once I am reminded about that life purpose, it helps renew my perspective about things.
4. A Leader needs to be self-aware
Self-awareness drives change. It's important that we take a step-back and ponder on the situations we've experienced, the reactions we've gotten from others, and the state of emotion we've influenced others to feel. From those, we are able to realize what behaviors and traits we need to stop, continue or start, so that we can become a more inspiring leader.
It wasn't easy for me when I realized I was just acting as a Manager, and not a Leader. At first, there was in denial, which made me think it was others who should adjust and not me. But when I learned to accept the fact that I needed to be adaptive to others, situations changed and reactions became more positive - slowly, but surely.
5. A Leader isn't afraid of feedback
People always say that feedback is a gift. It is, indeed. When we learn how to accept good or negative feedback from others, we grow and become better. When we are always hungry to get honest feedback from others, we learn how to be more understanding of how others feel about us.
I'm very fortunate that I was born to be very open to constructive criticisms, and that I act on it quickly. I always believe that I am not any better than others if I only rely on how I feel about myself. Feedback for me is my source of learning and growth. More than just the things I learn about the business, what's more important to me are the soft skills (i.e., behaviors and character) that I can nurture and bring even as I go out of my current company.
|Image from Huffington Post|
6. A Leader facilitates open communication
If your team members are fearful of you as their leader, you better be alarmed. Having fear in you is far different than just respecting you. Many team members who fear their leaders would often hide things from them, or shy away from them the moment they see their boss' shadow. However, this is easily resolved by having an open communication.
As much as I can, I make time for bi-weekly 1on1s with each of my direct reports. In this session, we don't exactly talk about the statuses of their tasks, but instead use this time to open up to each other through exchanges of thoughts and stories. These sessions help both me and my team member to learn and understand our motivations to work, our external issues that may affect work behavior, our life/career expectations and aspirations, or simply remind us of our wins as a team. It is also a good avenue for both parties to reveal each other's vulnerabilities, so we both realize that we're just humans after all.
7. A Leader is God-centered
The makings of a great Leader is hinged on a higher being, who is God. As humans, we cannot solely rely on ourselves. There will always be people who won't like us; there will always be challenges that will come our way. But the Bible says in Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
There have been many times in the past three years that I've wanted to give up due to several reasons -- too much workload, unaligned expectations, bad behaviors, rejection and persecution, etc., but when I'm reminded that there is a God looking after me, I know I can ask God for discernment; I believe that God will not allow anything to happen to me without His permission. The Scripture teaches, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)
To date, I'm still working on many aspects of my leadership skills. As I continue to strive to be better every day, I'm confident that I can be the best that God wants me to be, in His time. It's not easy, but I'm definitely up for the roller coaster ride!
What lessons have you learned as a Leader? Feel free to share in the comments section below.