Leadership tips we can all use
Last week I was invited to speak to a Brown Bag Lunch event of a large Government department. The topic they asked me to speak on was practical tips for moving from a “hands on tools” role into a leadership one. Here is a summary of my presentation.
Moving into leadership is a step change
I started the talk by telling my fairly typical story - 4.5 chapters of my career so far.
- Chapter 1 - I fell into Tech while in my first real job out of Polytechnic because typing was my super power!; worked exclusively with men for over 10 years; fought for pay parity, fair allocation of assignments and other barriers women often face; juggled being a mum, a divorce, and life; but loved it.
- Chapter 2 - Then discovered I enjoyed the people side of things more than the technical so started moving into service delivery and people leadership roles. Finally worked with other women!
- Chapter 3 - Business ownership, being the CEO and juggling all of the tiny fragments of a company.
- Chapter 4 - Portfolio life, combining chapter 3 with board governance roles, not-for-profit governance and donating my time to great causes.
- Chapter 4.5 - Today. Running a Membership organisation (so back to being a CEO) with the very clear purpose of changing the face of the digital technology industry.
To move from each of these chapters to the other was a significant step change for me - as it is for anyone moving into a leadership role or climbing the ladder (as they say).
Three things to understand about yourself
No matter your aspirations these three things are incredibly important to understand and in my experience are required as laying the ground work before you can contemplate taking on additional responsibilities.
1. Be your authentic self
- A phrase toku hoa (my friend) Kris uses is “be yourself, because everyone else is taken”.
- Learn how to be you, authentically. Not what you think other people want you to be.
- And besides. It’s just too hard to curate yourself all the time. Wastes too much energy and you’ll get caught out one day.
2. You will never be ready
- I had a few questions on Imposter Syndrome as a result of bringing this up, and to be fair that label does apply to this point
- Step changes - into technical or people or process leadership - are exactly what they say in the tin, a change. Human nature means we want to be 100% prepared before making any change but it’s just not possible.
- Study, mentoring, coaching and reading can all prepare you to a point, the reality is no matter what you will need to learn the new role and new responsibilities through experience so not being ready is just a fact.
3. Invest in yourself
- I can’t stress this enough for all of us, whether you are changing roles or staying where you are. Investing in you is invaluable.
- That investment can take a range of forms. In further education. In honouring your time to exercise or read or crochet - whatever you see as important for you.
- If you are looking to move into a leadership or management role, then investing in your personal development for that new role is sensible. Reading is a great investment, as is getting a mentor or coach.
Three skills to develop
There are thousands of skills that are important to develop to be fair. In suggesting these three they are skills all of us can leverage in our working lives.
1. Become an active listener
- The leaders I most admire in life are all active listeners.
- By this I mean - actually listen - don’t start planning your response as soon as the other person starts to speak and miss half of what they are saying because you are in your own head. It also means listen for the nuances, the undertones, what is emphasised, their body language (if you are lucky enough to be in person).
- Active listening builds Trust in an authentic, respectful manner.
2. Learn to “smile and wave”
- Learn how to not react in the moment. How to not let others get under your skin in the moment. Don’t let them see they are getting to you.
- I’m not saying bury things or ignore them, rather learning how to stay calm, be “mansplained” or “womansplained” to without losing your temper, be firm but polite. Then go away and deal with an issue with distance.
- Leadership involves being calm, protecting your team from attacks / noise / fires and enabling them to do their jobs. Smiling and waving is about providing your team with the strong sense you’ve got this, so they don’t need to worry.
3. Learn to be openminded
- There are 2 sides to every story. It’s important when in a position of responsibility to be able to see things from all angles.
- It’s equally important to recognise and understand your own bias - we all have them no matter how hard we work, intrinsic bias learned through our context in life. I know I have a recency bias for instance so I work really hard to overcome that.
- Decision making is hard, it’s a massive responsibility to consider all of the consequences of your decision, anticipate the unintended ones and find your blind spots. Learn to have people and processes in place to help you keep an open mind when making any important decisions especially.
How to make it happen
Sadly there is no formula to guarantee you will get that promotion. Your relationships, your track record, your experience all come into play. Here are three tactics I have seen successfully employed to help with a career shift.
1. Be clear on your intentions
- Your manager / team leader / HR consultant cannot read your mind! If you want to go on a leadership track, whether technical or people leadership, you need to tell them. Make it clear and ask for their help.
- Equally you need to be clear with yourself. Leadership life isn’t for everyone, make a decision because it’s not fair on the people around you if you fall into a role you don’t really want.
- Then if you are asked, and you want the job - say so! this is not the time to be all humble and polite. Stake that claim.
2. Consider a “reinvention” move
- Sometime’s it’s not possible to move up in the organisation you are currently working for. Leaders who aren’t open minded (like you are) may have pigeon holed you in a particular role.
- Another challenge many of us experience is we become too valuable where we are and the organisation is reluctant to expose themselves by enabling you to move roles.
- If it becomes apparently you can’t achieve your goals where you work then it’s time for a change. Stepping into a new organisation allows you to reinvent yourself as you establish in a new role.
3. Learn from others
- If there is a leader or manager you really admire their style of working - ask them how they developed it. They might not have capacity to mentor you but they will almost certainly let you buy them a cup of tea and provide you with some insight into their working style.
- Finding a mentor is also invaluable. There are programmes like the one we run here for ITP members that will match you with someone who can work with you as you develop into your new role.
- While still being authentic to yourself you can embody tactics you admire from others. I once had a fabulous manager who asked everyone what they were enjoying at work right now, a simple tactic to form relationships and understand the motives of their staff.
There is no one path
There is a whole shopping list of other characteristics we all need to develop for leadership - just do a quick search and you will find thousands of articles. Leadership can be lonely and scary while rewarding and challenging all at the same time.
These were my tips for a 10 minute talk. If you want to write a piece for Tech Blog with your own advice that would be mīharo (amazing).
Final thought. I do love this Te Reo Māori definition for Whakaiti or leadership. Whakaiti is a key term in Māori leadership. The leader does not self-nominate as a leader, does not take credit for work, but enables others. We can all learn something from this.
Mā te wā (see you later). Vic
Another lovely photo from my trip to the beautiful Rāpaki Marae in Banks Peninsula.
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