I was 19 when I took a job as a YMCA camp counsellor. I figured it would be easy, because I thought all I would have to do was play games with kids all day, and that was more or less true, but what I didn’t expect was the feeling that came over me when realised that 15 nine year olds were watching me, listening to me, and following me. For the first time in my life, I felt empowered. I felt important. I felt like I could make a difference. I’ll forever be grateful to the YMCA Camp Lakewood in Potosi, MO for giving me that feeling, and starting me on my journey to helping others through leadership and teaching.
When I moved to London five years ago and began searching for a job, I knew that feeling was what I was missing. I wanted to help people, help people. When the management position opened up in my department, although I had only been in the company two months, I asked if I could be considered, and even though I didn’t get the job, what was put in motion was my journey to leadership and management.
So why leadership? What draws us to it? For me, it boils down to encouraging others. This is why I love teaching and it’s why I love training. It’s why I love team building, and it’s why I love being a manager. To see a team cooperate, support, and grow together is an incredible thing to witness, and to be able to encourage that process not only makes me feel better, but I can see now how much more successful a team is in reaching their goals when there is a strong leadership presence available to them.
Leadership envelops all of the qualities you could argue are vital for a better world – kindness, communication, trust, support – but with more and more research developing around effective leadership skills like mindfulness and compassion, it’s become a much deeper pool than previously realised, and one with more room for people who have different personalities, backgrounds and goals. It’s appealing for both the success hungry, goal oriented, productivity hounds and the curious, conscious, intuitive feelers of the world.
Whether your goal is to improve your team’s communication, improve your relationship with your colleagues, or simply become more effective at your job – the foundations of leadership will help you get there. With 74% of UK professionals mirroring the leadership styles of their colleagues , it can be said that the most effective way to help lead is by learning and implementing these qualities within your team, and in your own life.
By continuing to learn and develop leadership skills, we give permission to our team and those working with us to do the same. Being able to submit yourself to new knowledge, and being humble enough to accept the need for growth sends a powerful message to those around us. It says, I am not a finished product, and I want to be better. To have the humility to admit that to those who may look up to us or see us on a pedestal that is held up by titles, salary and invisible constructs, brings us closer to those we wish to lead. It humanises us. It shows them that the truth we all are seeking, lies within.
Leadership is necessary in the workplace because support is necessary. Commonality is necessary. Goals and direction are necessary. Without leadership, your team will feel lost. Without somewhere to walk to, the walk will be endless, and people will get tired. Without someone to walk with, the walk will be lonely, and people will get fearful. A leader not only shows everyone where they’re walking to, but a leader walks with them.
What is a leader, if not someone who wants to support others in achieving a common goal? Can it be that simple? Whether that is a personal goal, or the goal of many, leadership requires putting the goal first, the people second, and the leader, themselves, last. If you have no goal, you have nowhere to go. If you have no people, you have no one to lead. A leader must be able to remove themselves from the situation in order to be truly effective. This can be a hard thing to internalise. Surely, my ego belongs somewhere in the equation? No. It does not. In fact, our ego can get in the way, and cause the goal to shift in our heads. What happens then is the goal is no longer common. Your goal may be something completely different from your teams, which will cause misalignment, communication barriers, and emotional breakdowns.
The lucky thing is that leadership can be taught. Like any new skill you’re trying to learn, you will struggle with trial and error. You will need courage, patience and you will need to practice. The rewards you will reap on the journey are fruitful and worth it. The ripple effect is far reaching and you may soon notice these skills helping more than just your team, but you personally, your communication with your neighbour, the way you view your reality. The road to being an effective leader doesn’t have to be scary, and it doesn’t have to be lonely. We’re here with you, holding the lantern, helping you to see where you’re going.