Becoming A Leader

When I asked fresh graduates and young workforce what they hope to become in the next 7-10 years of their career; their answer was “to become a manager or leader”. It seems that leadership is synonymous to only at workplace and

“Pride preceeds the fall”

from the title given to you from whomever in the office. I also fall into that trap when I was younger and fortunately managed to get out of that perception. I don’t want to dwell so much on the semantics and definition (although it is important too!) but what I want to write today about one aspect of leadership activities; which is becoming a leader.

Normal employment usually starts from the entry level (young executive) and gradually develops into leadership role. First you’re being managed and lead, then you become so good at what you do as individual and then you are promoted to lead a team. The transition from individual contributor to a leader is what I term as “becoming a leader”. While this gradual development seems simple and negligible, trust me that some people that I know had some makan-makan to celebrate this achievement. I think they should because usually this role comes with additional perks, increment and most importantly power.

However, the main challenge is greater. From a research that I read recently, many new leaders and managers fail greatly at this stage. They are still a great team player but not a team leader. While I can list down some great characteristics of good and bad leader, let me just pick and refer to my own experiences.

My first leadership role was a disaster because I end up only concerning about my own duties and area. I didn’t lend in hand to other area because I was still in the “individual performance” mode. Whatever I do is all about me and my results. While I successfully delivered my things, the team overall performance suffered. I learnt fast enough that a leader in action should see as whole as possible. This is hard when you are new in the organization or in the role. It takes years of practice and making mistakes to develop this aspect of leadership. Learn to see the big picture.

Becoming a leader also requires you to build coalitions. Another survey on leadership highlighted that three critical skills of a modern leader; Critical Thinking, Change Management and Building Coalitions. As businesses becoming more connected, relationship building is key to move things forward. However, from my experience building coalitions is a lot easier with external parties than among colleagues and internal parties. In fact there was one study saying that “coherence premium” is a single most powerful solution organization can make to leap. I can imagine some of you nodding in agreement to this statement. Learn how to build professional relationship internally and externally.

Leadership guru, Robin Sharma, said that a leader is someone who chooses which mountain to climb and a manager someone who comes out with the plan on how to climb the mountain efficiently. It is common for someone who lead a team to play both leader-manager role interchangeably. It is even more important for you to know when to turn on the leader and manager mode at the right time. Soon you will hear from your people (about you) either one of these two leadership styles; micromanage or laissez-faire. The “trick” is not to get carried away with whatever label they give you. As a new leader, it is important that you make mistakes and correct them early. Like I said above that it takes years of practice to become a good leader. Be constantly aware about your two roles as a manager and a leader.

Finally, becoming a leader also a challenge when you are not used to the newly bestowed power that you have. Always remember that you have another boss or leader on top of you. 🙂 While I believe that power that you gained from your work title doesn’t matter much, it is a “big thing” for a new leader. My advice is to always seek understanding from your own boss. You got to learn how to manage your boss while managing your own subs. Depending the type of bosses that you get, if you’re lucky you are going to learn considerable amount of good work habits and skills. If you’re unlucky (and don’t know how to choose!), you can get stuck with all the bad habits and corner-cutting ways of getting ahead without getting things done. A dangerous learning for new leaders and managers. Learn how to be a good human being when you lead, and when you are following learn how to pick up the good things.

Additional note, as a leader you need to learn how to collaborate and foster collaboration. My recent experience is a good example of the latter. This is important for incumbent leaders that have been in the organization for some time. You need to learn how to initiate and promote collaboration. While the new leaders need to learn how to build relationship, we don’t have much time to waste for team performance through synergistic collaboration among the leaders; junior and senior. Often I noticed greater resistance for the senior leaders to take the lead to foster collaboration. This is not good for the overall organization as they are the people the new leaders look up to. I suggest the senior leaders to have more empathy and contribute more to the big picture so the organization can be more effective and move faster than competition.

While leadership is an art, there is also a science to it that is methodical and learnable. There are traits and characteristics that identifiable of what make great leaders. Nonetheless, one thing about leadership that will make you leap is the behavioural part. Action, always speaks louder than words.

“When you manage use your mind, when you lead use your heart” – Anonymous


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