Early in my leadership journey, I imagined that, once I became a leader, I would feel as though I had arrived and could finally relax. But the reality of it? I think one of my clients sums it up best: “I thought I would be able to relax when I became an SVP, but now, I feel like the red laser beam is right here,” gesturing to the center of his forehead. Leadership is rewarding – and also sometimes lonely. You can lead a team and not be welcomed as part of the team. You can have hard days – really hard days – and have no one to talk to – no one who truly understands the experience.
The experience of leading others is inherently vulnerable. By its very definition, a leader is meant to be “out in front,” i.e., taking more risk, embracing uncertainty, and putting themself out there in new ways, every day. In practice, this means:
- Being ahead of people in your thinking,
- Course-correcting the actions of others when you see an effort go astray,
- Paying attention to the big picture all the time,
- Taking responsibility when things don’t go as planned, and
- Being the recipient of regular feedback and criticism as well as appreciation.
Positive leadership is living into the best version of yourself, despite the weightiness of the responsibility and loneliness of the position. It is not giving into the instinct to protect your innermost self by growing a hard shell of aloofness, cynicism, arrogance, and impatience. Or second-guessing yourself into playing small, giving away your self-trust in the process. All of which I have seen in my coaching practice. If you have a coach, lean on them and be honest about what you are experiencing. If you don’t have a coach yet, now may be the time to get one. Or consider joining a mastermind group of like-minded leaders. It takes courage every day to lead, which means you are often going to be uncomfortable. Create a safe place for you to land so that, instead of white-knuckling it to retirement, you can thrive in the process of leading.
Invest in the team you are on, as well as the one you lead, by intentionally forging trusting relationships with your peers. A cup of coffee and an opening question like “What is it like to be you today?” can go a long way.
Find a mastermind group – an online community or an in-person association – where you can talk about current-day challenges and think about the future with other organizational leaders who don’t have any skin in your game.