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My 5 Dirty Little Secrets About Leadership

Here’s my truth. One day I was a worker bee, and the next day I was the boss.

Like motherhood, leadership didn’t come with an instruction manual. Just as I was handed a newborn and sent home from the hospital, I was “handed” a staff member one day and expected to lead.

And, over time, the number of people I was leading grew to 60+ (not counting other functional groups who needed to implement our marketing ideas).

Thankfully, adults cry less than babies. But inspiring, motivating, educating, and mentoring them is just as challenging, especially when you’re working in an organization with lofty goals, quirky personalities, and ever-changing priorities.

Team members have different learning, communication, work styles, varying responses to stress, and individual career and life goals.

At times, I was a lousy leader. Trial and error, coaching, and “borrowing” skills from other leaders continue to improve me.

Here are just a few of the many things I’ve learned about leadership over the past 30+ years. They are not really dirty secrets, but provocative headlines tend to get clicks. That’s a content lesson I’ve learned...not a leadership one.

  1. Leadership is not a “one size fits all” skill. People are motivated by different things and have varied learning styles. Great leaders must adapt to their culture and team members.

  2. Leadership is not for everyone at all times. Being an individual contributor rather than “the boss” is something we should never be ashamed or apologetic about. At times in my life, when personal and family pressures were significant, I was actually relieved to work in a more strategic or execution role. You don’t have to sit in the C-suite to be valuable to a company.

  3. You’ll learn some of your best and worst skills from other leaders. Early in my career, I emulated the leadership style of whoever I was reporting to. BIG mistake. Especially as women, we need to take the best lessons from those around us and incorporate them into our own personal communication and management styles.

  4. Leading people who don’t report to you requires a special set of skills. I’m sure in some situations, people thought, “Who the hell is SHE, and why should I listen to her?” Building credibility and trust takes time and focus. Understand what motivates the people around you and use your mad sales skills to match your message to an end benefit for those you need to rally around you.

Leadership is more complex than ever before. An intergenerational workforce, remote work, and a variety of other factors will continue to transform the roles of leaders and present new challenges.

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