Leadership can be trying. It can test you in ways you never realized and provide opportunities to learn and grow in ways that you might not otherwise experience. This year, I have the great privilege to serve as president of the Colorado Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Through next May, I am also serving as president of my homeowner’s association. There are thousands of books written about leadership. I’m no Colin Powell or Deepak Chopra, so here’s a short version of what I’ve learned so far this year:
Set and Communicate Expectations. Don’t assume you’ve done this (we all know what that does). If you don’t have clear expectations of those who work with you, it can lead to a lot of unnecessary heartburn and consternation. Leadership usually involves leading people, not just projects or things. Be clear about what you need from the people you are leading, and keep the communication lines open.
Ask for Help and Learn from Others. Be sure you have a core group of people to whom you can trust to give you honest feedback and advice. You’re not the first to tread down this path, so learn from those who have walked it before. Whenever I’ve had doubts, felt overwhelmed with responsibilities, or when it seems like emotions are running high and I need a neutral third party opinion on something, I reach out and ask for help. There’s always someone who provides some well-needed support or advice.
Empower People to Care For and Feed Their Own Monkeys. Just because you’re in the top spot doesn’t mean you’re responsible for doing everything. This is illustrated amazingly well in a classic Harvard Business Review article on leadership. Written originally in 1974, it’s as true now as it was then. If you delegate projects (monkeys) to people, don’t take them back. You can provide coaching and support so they can learn how to feed and care for their monkeys, but remember those monkeys don’t belong to you anymore! I haven’t always done well at this, but for me it remains a cardinal rule of leadership and management.
Be a Good Juggler and Pick Your Battles. As chapter president, I have 15 board members and at least 13 committees with chairs or co-chairs. Use the people around you, and the systems and processes in place, to help you stay organized. It’s not worth the time or the energy to insert yourself into every discussion or decision-making process. Let the other leaders around you lead their own teams, and keep in mind your overall goals (and the other lessons I’ve mentioned here!).
Think Beyond Yourself. In a leadership role, you are entrusted to be thinking beyond your own interests and goals. You have an organization, a project, and/or a group of people to be concerned with. For PRSA, I have to keep in mind the well-being of the entire chapter, our 500 members, as well as how that relates to the national organization – and take into account all these different perspectives when I make decisions or provide advice or counsel.
Learn from Your Mistakes and Be Nice. We’re all human and fallible and in these kinds of leadership positions, we’re also all volunteers. No one is perfect and mistakes will be made, either by you or others. Be kind to people and learn from these mistakes, and help others learn and grow from them, too.
Leadership can be trying. It can test you in ways you never realized, but the rewards and growth that come as a result can be significant and long-lasting. My leadership experiences are making me a better counselor, a better professional, and a better partner at home. What have you learned from your leadership experiences?