There are many ways to gauge how well you're doing when you are heading up a project. Are we meeting our deadlines? Are we staying on or under budget? Is the client happy? These are easy ways to measure the success of a project, but this does not equate to your success as a leader. Most leaders make the mistake by confusing the two.
"Did we deliver on time? Well, thanks to my decisive leadership we did." Never mind, you had to fend off a mutiny, your team was in tears and everyone was burned out as they crawled across the finish line.
"Of course the client was happy, I'm a great leader." Really?!?! Or is there an entire team not being given credit for their contribution and efforts in making that client happy?
"Thanks to my leadership our project came in 2% under budget." Should we ask HOW you managed this? If it was underpaying crew members or downsizing to reduce cost, your achievement came at the expense of your team... not really great leadership.
These familiar sentiments are often heard when a project wraps and the company is doing assessments. But it would be wise to look past the obvious success milestones and dig a little deeper. If a company is trying to build a sustainable model, looking at delivery, budget and client satisfaction is not enough. Success on a project must take into account if it has been at the expense of your team. You may have accomplished all of these goals, but if half your team leaves at the end of the project (or worse half way through), then you have fallen short of a major milestone that will bite you in the ass down the road: employee moral.
For many leaders it's hard to swing back and forth between the marco and micro goals of a project. If client satisfaction is the objective, it can be hard to remember that you must check in and maintain the health of your team. There are many bosses who feel that the best employees should come with the ability to be self sufficient, requiring as little maintenance as possible... the succulent employee. But even in a garden full of desert plants, maintenance is still required ( I'm saying this from experience as I look out my window, onto my own sad garden.) The point is, even if leaders are lucky to have ambitious, self starters, constantly engaged and plugging away, a team is never on auto pilot. So how are you as a leader maintaining the health of your team?
I have been lucky enough to have been given some amazing leaders during my career. I have also been lucky to be given some really not so great leaders too. In both cases, these leaders have taught me a lot and informed my own leadership style. When I did move into the role of leader I was more ready than I realized. Here's my quick list of what successful leadership should look and feel like.
1) You will never feel ready to be a leader. When I was given my first leadership role, I think I was 12. I was made assistant life guard at my after school program. I yelled and screamed at the kids who ran on the pool deck. I got angry and screamed when kids dove in the shallow end. After my first week I had lost my voice. I wanted to be seen as a leader, and at 12 I had no idea what this meant. So in my 12yr old brain, it meant I had to tell people I was "in charge." The head lifeguard pulled me aside at the end of week 1 and said, "You know, sometimes when we want to be heard, the best thing to do is be silent. If you yell at everyone all the time, they tune you out and no one hears you. If you choose silence and use your voice when you really need to be heard, people will listen." It would take me about another twenty years to fully grasp this concept, but it was wise advice I still carry with me to this day.
When I was older and given the responsibility of leading, I had now had years of experience under my belt. I had survived shit storms and mission impossible situations, and despite all of this I still didn't feel ready. I remember when I was given the job of co-dept head, I could feel the fear begin to creep in. The instinct was to exert my power so that my team knew I was in control, but wisdom prevailed. The truth was, I had to have a conversation about all of this with myself. Was I ready to lead? NO, definitely not. Was I capable of leading? Maybe. Would I be ok with figuring it out? I was going to have to be. In the end when I accepted leadership, knowing I needed to figured it out, I was more motivated to learn and grow. I would spend down time problem solving or reading about leadership techniques.
Once I embraced the truth, that leadership was a learning process, it allowed me to be vulnerable, another huge asset. I asked questions. I listened when others gave me advice. Most importantly, I realized no leaders ever have it all figured out. The good leaders are constantly learning new things. They are being challenged and must step up everyday. The best leaders are learning something new each day about their team AND themselves. This was a major keystone in my leadership education.
What I learned from both of these situations is that you can approach the feeling of "Not being ready for leadership," in two ways: A fear based approach or an embrace of the unknown approach. With fear you'll have a harder time controlling your ego and will constantly feel the need to prove yourself. When you embrace the unknown, you give yourself the permission to learn and grow. Which one you choose will set the tone you take with your team.
2) Your team is a reflection of your leadership. Do you have a team that functions on chaos and stress? Are your members afraid to make decisions without you? Are they afraid to ask questions? Are team members constantly bickering and back stabbing? Do you have high turn over? Are there high levels of office drama or hysterics? This may be a reflection of the way you lead.
Conversely, do you have a team that approaches problem solving collaboratively? Do members engage in productive dialogue that supports the project and each other? Do members feel confident to ask questions? Are team members comfortable with accountability? Do team members feel pride in their work? These answers are largely dependent on what kind of tone has been set by the leader.
So what is my style of leadership? I wear multiple hats at once: cheerleader, soccer mom, confidant, mentor, mediator, with just a dash of hot mess, to keep them on their toes and break them of the habit of looking to me for ALL the answers.
Follow up with my next post where I dive into my leadership style with a more in-depth examination of what each role means to me.