I just came back from a three-day leadership course. It was an insightful course that not only reinforced some of what I already knew about leadership, but also taught me new skills to help me improve as a leader. Most importantly though, it got me thinking about why I’d decided to become a leader in the first place.
I didn’t set out to be a leader. Early in my career I just wanted a job so I could be a productive member of society, pay my bills, and splurge on a vacation or two. I struggled with “what I wanted to be when I grew up.” Like many people, I took some time to figure that out. While I may not have always known what exactly I wanted to do or be, my desire to make a difference has always been clear.
About a year into my insurance career, my mentor at the time offered me some sage advice: “No matter what you do, listen to your heart. Do what you feel is right, and if you want to make a difference, then always look for an opportunity to do just that.” Throughout my career, those two sentences have guided me countless times. Whenever I struggle with which path to take, I think back to those wise words. They have never steered me wrong.
As a leader, I have the opportunity to make a difference. And I achieve that by helping employees learn, grow, and advance in their careers. My encouragement ultimately impacts their decisions and abilities.
Anyone who knows me is well aware I’m not fond of the “B-word,” or “boss.” I much prefer “coach.” Since I view myself as a coach, I’ll use a sports analogy to explain my leadership approach. What I do is assemble a group of talented players whose individual strengths and skills make for a strong, solid team. I put those players on the field strategically. That means playing them at the right time with those teammates who complement their skills, at the same time ensuring they’re properly aligned against their opponents. I then direct my players’ efforts and provide them with guidance on how to improve their game. I give them timely, valuable feedback so that they play their best. And sometimes, I simply stand on the sidelines observing how they play - not just as individuals but as team members. That way I learn more about them, but as a coach or a leader, not as a boss.
Three Ways You Can Be A Leader
If you’re currently leading a team or if management is in your future, here are three ways you can strive to be a leader instead of a boss:
1. Don’t just sit back. Really get to know your people
It's easy just to sit back, expecting your team will perform their roles relatively guidance-free. However, being a leader means getting to know each individual personally to discover their strengths and play to them. Besides, by doing that, your team members will more likely be engaged because they’re working at what they like best. The result: a highly productive team.
2. Accept career transitions
It’s natural to feel frustrated when a valuable team member leaves. Still, as a leader, it’s important to understand they have the opportunity to move onto something they’ve worked hard to achieve. Let them go proudly, knowing you were part of their journey - that you made a difference.
3. Coach the members of your team
Seeing myself as more coach than manager is a must. I ensure that I take the time to provide valuable, timely feedback including concrete ways for improving and strengthening my players’ game. This approach helps build trust between you and your team because they see your willingness to invest in their professional development.
When I coach players who soar, my coaching skills truly pay off. These players have both the drive and talent to think big and play a much more challenging game. Sure, I could be selfish and hold onto these winning players. But the beauty of being a good coach is knowing how best to encourage them to keep pushing themselves to reach higher. Keeping that in mind, I can let them go proudly, knowing I was fortunate enough to be a part of their journey and that I could make a difference.