The best way to become an effective leader is to disregard it as a goal and instead focus on a learning journey that combines formal experiences in a workplace with selective experiences of your own making.
I recall in my early years that volunteering in different environments enabled me to test my capacity in unfamiliar circumstances with people from all walks of life. In many ways, these were far more enriching moments than my nine to five jobs provided me.
I began to learn the importance of exposure and reflection as a way to live a big life. Each time I exposed myself to a new situation, I knew I had learnt something valuable and I reflected on my response to it. This in turn kept redefining who I was and what I was capable of. I began to realise and continue to believe that we can all be borderless in our mindset if we keep testing our own capacity in different circumstances. It is my way of life.
Here are my five priorities for young people interested in becoming effective leaders:
1. Pursue your passions
Sound cliché? Well, I am not worried if it does. My reality is that I am yet to see an effective leader who is not working in an area that they are passionate about. The lucky ones know their passion early, but for many, they must simply keep looking.
When you combine passionate pursuit with your work you have an energy that others notice. It’s in your body language. People are naturally attracted whether they like you or not. Great leaders mobilize others with their authentic energy.
Don’t settle for existence ahead of a leadership adventure you believe in.
2. Listen and observe
If you want to lead you need to be a champion at listening and observing. Everyday, the people around you are expressing themselves in word, manner, body language and actions. To date, I remain stunned at how blind so many are to the messages people express in different ways.
If you want to be the leader amongst leaders, learn about the personalities of the people you work with. Understand their strengths, weaknesses and motivations. Invest in them through conversation. Learn about their life experiences and marry your approach to different people in a manner consistent with their character.
Great communication comes from a genuine human interest in others.
Ironically, there is no greater strength than the expression of empathy. In leadership, always take the opportunity to exhibit your understanding when a colleague faces difficult times, whether that be as a result of their own actions or not. A moment of kindness when a person is vulnerable can present a profound opportunity to recast a relationship and allow confidence to be built or rebuilt.
A timely kindness can turn a person’s life around.
4. Personal identity
The most effective leaders are not defined by their own success or the title they hold. You will see on many occasions a person’s life unravel when they lose their leadership role. This is often because they have unwittingly allowed their title to be their identity and confidence. Throughout your life, always ensure that you do not align your identity to your title. Not only will it make you more tentative in conducting your activities, it will shatter you if the title is taken away.
Your role should not define you.
From today, do everything you can to understand the impact you have on others around you. It took me a long time to begin to appreciate how my actions and behaviours impacted on others. Only when self-awareness becomes a strength will you be on your leadership journey. I have seen many hard working and well meaning people miss out on their earned opportunity for promotion simply because they continued to have negative impacts on others without ever recognising it.
Test your level of self-awareness with those you love and like.
So, if you are new to leadership or on the track towards it, I hope these five tips help to ensure you are focused on the learnings up the ladder, not what it looks like from the top.