Twenty years ago, I stepped into the business world.
Today, I wouldn’t change a day of it. That’s not to say it’s all been plain-sailing—there have certainly been challenging times. It’s these challenging times that have taught me the most, especially about how to lead people. However, there are certainly mistakes I could have done without making!
For those of you just starting out in your careers, here are my top mistakes to avoid when it comes to leadership.
It’s not about you
Open up the autobiography of any great leader, and you’ll notice something remarkable within the first few pages.
Not ‘I,’ ‘me,’ ‘my.’
Too often young leaders forget that the essence of leadership is other people. They become inward focused, looking to further their own goals and careers. I’ve been guilty of this myself, and to be honest, it’s hard—when you’re young and ambitious, your own goals naturally sit front and centre in your mind.
I’m telling you now, the path to achieving all of these goals is through other people. You can’t force people to follow your ideas and vision; you need their buy in to succeed as a leader. By engaging with your team, understanding their hopes and dreams, then helping them achieve this, you build a team which genuinely respects your leadership, helping you achieve your goals too.
Just like the world’s greatest leaders, your perspective needs to be framed towards the collective, not you as an individual.
As a young leader setting out, it’s often intimidating leading teams older or more experienced than yourself.
You doubt whether you’re the right person for the job—surely, it’s just a matter of time until you get found out, and they give the job to someone more qualified, right? The reality is, no one feels ready for leadership initially, and these thoughts rarely go away. I often find myself standing in rooms to this day, questioning why I’m the one leading.
Be careful that this feeling doesn’t contaminate your leadership style. A leader needs to be vulnerable and authentic, willing to accept input and correction from their team. If you’re feeling insecure about your right to lead, it’s easy to adopt a ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ mentality, and charge forward with phony confidence. This will only result in isolating and devaluing your team, undermining your credibility as a leader.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and invite feedback. As a young leader, the best way to lead is through listening.
Communication doesn’t come naturally
If you’ve found yourself in a leadership position at a young age, chances are you have a natural charisma.
As handy as this will be throughout your leadership journey, it’s not enough. Don’t wait until you’re halfway through your career before working on your communication skills—communication is a science, and something which needs to continually be experimented with.
As a starting point, I’ve found my most effective communication to have three characteristics: It’s clear (no fancy words, just a plain and simple point), consistent (you might think that you’ve got the message across, but it always takes more interactions that you think!) and creative (do something that captures your team’s attention to leave a lasting impression).
Rather than relying on your personal charisma, commit to developing your communication skills now. Your team will thank you for it.
I’ve found leadership to be one of the most rewarding aspects of business over the last 20 years. My hope is that the tips above can help move you forward in your leadership journey, and you’ll discover these rewards too.