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  • Writer's pictureCécile Hemery

How to be a good leader

Updated: Feb 11


a woman is explaining something to her colleagues

Most of us have experience with terrible bosses and a clear picture of what not to be when leading people. Some of us have had experience with fantastic managers that we still feel connected to years after no longer working together. What we remember is how they made us feel.

Faced with the question of who we want to be as leaders, immediately the answer is ready. We want to be “good”. We want to take care of our teams, deliver great results and be inspired and inspiring.

The path from where we are now to where we want to be is not as clear.

In the day-to-day, we face tough situations, we deal with problems we have no idea could have existed, and that image of the good leader we aspire to be can seem like a dream, that doesn’t apply to the here and now.

So here are a few reflection points to guide you in your leadership journey.


The difference between a manager and a leader

There is a difference between a manager and a leader.

A manager is a job title: that puts you in charge of a team and/or a project. You have goals to deliver, outcomes to produce, and processes to create or comply with. It can be very junior or very senior.

A leader is a way of being. You don’t need a team to be a leader. And you can be a manager and not act as a leader.

Very few titles have the term “leader” in it. I’ve encountered “team leads” or “Lead [insert expertise]”, but rarely - if ever - leader. Our top management are “officers”, not leaders: someone who “who holds an office of trust, authority, or command” as defined by Merriam-Webster. We call them the leadership team, we’re not individually calling them leaders. That’s an interesting symbol to explore another time.

Asking again Merriam-Webster, a leader is someone who leads “as a guide” and “who has a commanding authority or influence”. It doesn’t sound like something you can be given, or assigned, does it? But something you have to figure out for yourself and embody.

I like to call it a “posture”. A way to show up. To think and to act. To interact with others. To interpret and anticipate situations. To make decisions.


How do I become a better leader?

There are many approaches to leadership, but I’ll just take a few examples to illustrate what makes a leader.


The posture toward the problem

When someone comes to a leader with a problem, the natural response from the leader is not to fix the problem. Does it sound counterproductive? On the surface maybe.

But essentially, the leader doesn’t see themselves as someone with superior knowledge or skills. The leader acknowledges and respects the ownership of their colleagues. He believes the person has the answer, or rather, that they can come up with one, and their job as a leader, is to help them get there. To be of service to the solution.

For those who have seen the TV show “New Amsterdam”, the character Dr Max Goodwin is a good example of that posture with his trademark recurring line “How can I help?”. He's not inserting himself into the solution, he's making room for the solution to appear.


Confidence and The Ego trap

That posture implies a degree of confidence in oneself and an ability to manage their emotions.

The ego trap, in management, is to see the problem as what it means about you: will that be a failure? Am I good enough? Will I lose face? Will I be a laughing stock, be fired and never find work ever again? How does this impact me?

It’s a perfectly human reaction, but when it takes over, it makes you act out of fear. It puts you in a defensive position that cuts you off from others. It makes you miserable.

The leader may have these thoughts coming in, but they will question them and choose not to act on them. They will put themselves back in a neutral position and show up from a place of support, of solutions, of faith (“we’ve got this”).

If that is not something that you have learned to do, do not worry. This is a skill you can learn. A muscle you can build and grow. You are not born wise. You become wise. This is no different. Talk to me if you need support there.

A starting point I can offer you is to pay attention to how you’re reacting when someone comes to you with a problem or a situation. Ask yourself what you are listening to: what this person is saying? Or how you are reacting to what they are saying?


You don’t need to know their job to lead them

Many managers feel that it is their responsibility to know better. And it can be triggering when put in charge of a team with skills you know nothing about. Many clients come to me wondering what value they can bring if they don’t know the job and this is a source of anxiety - how will they show their value? Or why it can be intimidating to be in charge more senior than oneself.

If you see yourself as someone who needs to teach them their job, that makes you neither a leader nor a manager. That makes you a teacher or a trainer. And you’re not there to teach them their job. That's another question to ask yourself: what are you there for in regards to your team?

Ted Lasso, in the TV show that bears his name, is a great example of that. Ted is appointed coach of a football team. He knows nothing about football. He doesn’t even pretend he does.

"But", as our dear Liam Neeson would say in Taken “what I do have are a very particular set of skills”. In the case of Ted, those skills are that can see the people behind their jobs and facades, he knows how to listen and make people feel heard, he knows how to inspire a common goal, motivation, he knows how to be patient and resilient. He knows how to fail and learn. He knows how to surround himself with talented people and rely on them. And give them credit. His human impact is greater than technical knowledge. That impact translates into lasting results.

You don’t need to be a genius to be a leader and not all geniuses are leaders.


You don’t need to have it all figured out to be a good leader

And that brings me to my final point, also eloquently shown in Ted Lasso. You don’t need to have it all figured out. You can fail, you can make mistakes, you can be a mess. You’re not just a leader, you are a human. And it’s important to give yourself a break too. To seek support even though you’re the one who’s supposed to have all the skills and to support everybody else. You can change. You can grow.

You are willing to work through it. Acknowledging and facing your own vulnerability is an act of bravery that will fuel your strength far more than you might imagine. Sharing it is important, although, depending on circumstances, who you share it with matters too, you can choose.

You have value, even if you don’t have it 100% figured out. You can show up as a leader for yourself and for others even if not everything is going perfectly.

You don’t need to be perfect to inspire others, and in truth, no one ever is.


 

A leader is a work in progress - and knows it. Someone constantly learning about themselves and others. Able to reflect, to fail, to learn from it and get back up. Respectful of themselves and others. They show the way not by telling others where to go - it’s not just about the vision - but by making space for everybody on that journey.

If you’re ready to explore how to up your leadership posture, send me a message or reach out for a conversation.



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