10 Years, 10 Lessons: Direct Insights for Your Leadership Path
It’s already ten years since I got my first leadership role. That’s a lot of time. Imagine all the things that you could do in a decade. Well, I have spent that time leading, learning, and growing.
“What does it mean to be a leader? Is it being the one at the front of the pack, scanning the horizon, heart pounding with the weight of it all? Or is it more about hanging back, guiding from behind, and helping others find their way? “
Being a leader is like trying to solve a very tricky 3D puzzle. It has a lot of these similar pieces but quite different. There are doubts and uncertainties but also moments of clarity and conviction. And you, as a leader, get to sort it all out.
Being a leader is like walking a tightrope. You must stand firm against the blasts of uncertainty while ensuring your team is safe and sound. It’s all about finding the sweet spot between looking out for your team and calling the shots.
So, here I am. Ten years, an entire decade of figuring it out, struggling and getting back up, and leading. And you know what? The journey is still ongoing.
As I stand on the brink of another ten years of leadership, I want to share the wisdom I’ve gained during this journey. The nuggets of truth I wish someone had shared with me when I first stepped into the role of a leader. The insights come with time and experience, the facts that have unfolded, and the steady pace I’ve learned to maintain.
Lesson 1: Continuous learning is so important!
You can give your employees knowledge and expertise, but you must also learn to give to yourself.
If you do this right, you don’t feel like an expert because you keep diving further into the deep end.
Learning is your best tool and the most important thing you can share. If you can acquire information faster than your surroundings and transfer this ability to your employees, you can collectively lead others.
You have probably heard that the most successful CEOs in the world read a lot. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Jeff Bezos are specialists who can quickly familiarize themselves with virtually any subject.
Learn this skill yourself and then teach it to your followers. That’s how you’re always one step ahead by constantly climbing higher.
I always take a small part of my day to learn something new. I read about the latest trends in my industry and read about the management styles of other companies. I try learning a new language or taking an online course on Udemy about something that interests me.
Learn by doing, take notes, or write in a journal. Find out how you learn, whether auditory, visual, mathematical, tactile, or otherwise.
Once you take learning into your own hands and make it a habit, you’ll be in a small group of people who always seem to know a little more than everyone else.
Lesson 2: A Leader is still a human!
Becoming a leader doesn’t mean losing your emotions and behaving like a robot.
You have to learn to show your feelings. If your employees bailed on a big project and you had to work 16 hours straight to finish their work, you will feel exhausted, desperate, sad, and angry; don’t hold it in.
Tell them you needed their help and how their bailing out on you made you feel.
Chances are they didn’t fully understand your expectations and will work hard to win back your favor.
You must learn to use the carrot and the whip. Many leaders are constantly hard on their employees, and their employees get used to it and start not taking their leader seriously. Many leaders are too nice and never raise their voices, speak thoughtfully, or put anything in a negative or pessimistic light. The most successful leaders find a balance.
I found out that praising someone’s work while highlighting his or her weaknesses gives him or her a chance to be a whole person in front of you. It is more difficult to follow this line, but it will be more rewarding in the long run.
Lesson 3: Hire people!
Many people spend way too much time on their startups, projects, and new businesses 100% alone.
Please hire people as soon as you can, as soon as possible. The rapid improvements will make you wish you had hired people sooner.
Adding more people to your team will speed up your progress and allow you to think more about the big picture and worry less about the small details.
Having additional eyes looking at your work will likely eliminate weak parts, making you see where you need to improve the most.
Hiring early emphasizes a crucial financial difference between your personal life and your business.
In your own life, your income is limited to yourself and how much you can earn in a month, a year, etc.
You spend a percentage of this amount, which changes gradually as you get a raise, promotion, or career advancement.
In a business, the amount you earn is based on the contracts you have executed, times margin divided by time.
Even if your deals have a lower margin, the more of them you land, the more of them your company’s revenue will likely increase.
In other words, if you’re fine with getting a smaller piece of the pie, getting a small piece of a giant cake is almost always better than a big piece of a small cake.
Learn this early, and you will most likely benefit from this.
Lesson 4: Your dream is nothing special!
I am sorry for stating it this way; of course, everyone is unique, but in leadership, you have to lay out your dream, dip it in the acid of truths, and slam it on the cold, hard concrete of reality (and I mean on a job posting site).
It will feel a bit like you are standing naked in public!
But once you put your dream out there, you’ll likely find that many people share the same vision.
Get some of these people with you, and now you have something very special because together, you all might make this dream come true.
Lesson 5: You don’t really understand your business until you have taught it to others!
It is very easy to know, but understanding is something else.
It allows you to create a new way of doing things from scratch and build every single component the right way from the ground up.
You should do that to build your company’s idea in your team’s minds.
Once you understand yourself after teaching your apprentices, you can make your clients understand it, too. The best way I learn something is by teaching it. Once you get used to educating yourself, you can teach something you’ve learned to someone else.
It will be of great help to you to learn the subject yourself. Once you learn how to teach, you can invite your followers to teach you.
Their knowledge will grow, and they will likely enjoy the experience. However, remember that the more you know, the more you realize that you know next to nothing.
You have to get used to this uncertainty and use the uncomfortable feeling it gives you to propel you forward.
Lesson 6: Listen!
Spend at least 70% of the time asking questions and listening to what other people are saying.
A leader is a person who can absorb information from all sources around him and then repeat that information in an organized manner, which applies to solving a problem or achieving the overall goal.
If you can listen to your people and hear between the lines of what they have to say, reorganize their thoughts within the framework of the project or goal, and tell it back to them, you can have better conversations that engage your followers and get people to be excited about your mission.
Have you ever noticed that you like people who listen to you?
Humans are made to feel good when others appear to be paying attention to what they say.
Use this to your advantage and improve your communication skills every chance you get.
Lesson 7: Go with the flow!
Have you ever given someone an easy task only to find out that it immediately confused or frustrated them?
Chances are, you haven’t assigned them something they are good at or interested in. It’s essential to identify a person’s strengths.
This is the basic version of this lesson. But more than that, you need to find out what they are passionate about.
If your employee is a tool in your arsenal, you may have someone really good at a certain task but would like to become good at something else. Listen to these goals and find things they can do in them.
You can convert a short-term asset into long-term loyalty and gratitude by helping them realize their dreams.
Give your employees something to learn every day or every week. Let them sit back and absorb new information.
Ask them what they liked or didn’t like and tailor their work to what they seem to be interested in. Getting it right will mean the difference between an employee and a stakeholder.
They will feel like part of the game, an essential part of the company’s success, and make themselves important.
Your employees may also fall into two or more categories — and dealing with introverts can be a little different than dealing with extroverts — so find the best tactics and improve your team management skills to bring out the best in people.
Lesson 8: Care for the time!
It is your time, however you want to spend it. If you arrive 1 hour late to the office daily, you can expect your colleagues to follow your example.
If you show up on time daily, you may notice that your employees do the same.
You should spend a little more time thinking about your appearance, manners, and habits.
No matter how closely you analyze yourself and your behavior, your followers will keep an eye on you and repeat after you. If you want to see changes in them, you usually don’t have to look far.
It takes time, but your habits will eventually lead to their habits. If you change your habits, your behavior and situation will slowly change, and in turn, your company, your team, and the project will adapt to the new you.
It’s not just your punctuality that followers expect you to set the standard for.
Your company culture, communication, values, and optimism can rub off on your employees during their employment.
It requires consistency on your part and time. Be the change you want to see in your business.
Lesson 9: Be honest!
It’s easy to be honest about small things or general things, but one of the most important things to be honest about is what you know and can do.
Is it better to create a culture where you invent creative nonsense so that you always have an answer for everything? Or is it better to say “I don’t know” sometimes?
Many companies choose the less honest of the two options because it is widely shared among companies.
However, it is essential to consider what is “marketing language” and what is reality, and only use the former when speaking to your team members.
Your business won’t reach its full potential unless you encourage discussions about what it’s lacking and what it aspires to be.
A culture that allows “I don’t know” says it’s okay to fail. It encourages people to test ideas and explore things outside the box.
Do you want people to think for themselves, to come up with solutions, and to make your company more efficient, braver, and stronger? Sometimes, a little uncertainty goes a long way.
Lesson 10: Say NO!
It may be that you have been given your role as “Yes-Man” or “Yes-Woman,” but now you might want to consider saying “No” more often.
You must say “No” more often than yes as a leader. While doing this, you increase the strength of the limited resources that your team has for a specific task rather than spreading them over many different causes.
You may be sitting around waiting and not using your resources. It’s true, but there’s a reason for it.
You increase your value by being more selective and rejecting people, potential clients, jobs, or ideas.
How does it work?
It is actually based on the principle of scarcity.
Many people agree to things or act overly friendly because they want to be liked or seem enthusiastic. In high school, it often seemed like the most attractive girls dated the “bad boys,” who were noticeable because they didn’t follow the rules. The “nice guys,” who were more common, didn’t get as much attention, perhaps because they didn’t stand out.
The 2–3 people who loudly ask for attention often get it, while the hundreds of more polite options are never considered.
You can use the same principle to stand out in your business. If you do things differently, you and your team will be highlighted as a smaller, more rare, and more valuable category than everyone else.
Speak up loud and often for your team, and be hard to ignore. Although it seems counterintuitive, look at what others are doing and try to do something different.
A Bonus Lesson: Failure is a thing to love!
As a leader, experiencing failure is crucial. Completing a project can be tough, but one day, you might see someone else succeed in a similar area, questioning whether your idea was ever feasible.
The only way to honestly know if your idea can work is to try and fail. Failure lets you push boundaries and find new opportunities others haven’t noticed. It challenges your beliefs and helps you break free from old ways of thinking.
Allowing failure in your company doesn’t mean you anticipate it. Instead, it’s an optimistic strategy that encourages taking bold steps. We often hear that taking bigger risks can lead to greater rewards, but many teams and companies struggle with how to do this safely.
Taking a risk is like solving a puzzle; you must tackle it piece by piece. By breaking down a big task into smaller parts, you can address each one separately. If you apply this to failure — allowing for small setbacks instead of one large one — you can understand where things might go wrong without jeopardizing the whole project. This way, your business can avoid total failure because you’ve identified and handled the more minor issues early on.
You can’t fully learn leadership just by listening to advice, looking at images, or other forms of guidance. You have to experience it firsthand. Like learning to ride a bike, it might be tricky and uncomfortable initially, and you might need some support. But with time, you’ll get the hang of it, and it will become a natural skill for you.
To succeed in today’s highly competitive world, there’s no shortcut; you need to work hard over a long period. Find your inner passion that motivates you and stick with it. Although you might feel like you’re losing knowledge or not progressing, you’ll gain deep wisdom over time. This wisdom will empower you to create new ideas and knowledge from your experiences.
This post was initially posted on Substack – come say hi!