The Perception of Leadership Versus Reality

You will never make a good leader if you think like that.

The words hit a chord, being a good leader was all I have ever wanted. I remember being 5 or 6 years old and going to a church bazaar, there was a game called the “spookhius” where a room would be cordoned off, and a dark maze made where other children dressed up as monsters and grab at you while you walk through to the end. Amongst the spaghetti guts on the floor and marshmallow eye balls, a spooky ghost grabbed me and my friend. I quickly pushed my yelping friend behind me and with my plastic toy sword I had just won from the “tombola” game, I smacked the ghost on the head with a hollow bop. My friend thanked me for saving her life and from that moment I knew that when moments were tough, I wanted to be the one to step out and save the day.

You will never make a good leader if you think like that. You have unrealistic expectations of yourself and if you do not fix that you will continue to have unrealistic expectations of your staff.

The words stung a little less as I rolled them about in my forever racing mind. She was right and I knew it. I have managed staff before but I struggled. At the age of 23 I had been running my business for a few years and had taken the next step, I had just hired my first few staff. Starry eyed and hopeful I thought we would dominate the world, together. How wrong was I, I soon realised that people have their own aspirations and that to build a strong team you must all have a common goal. I also expected too much of myself and therefore of my staff, which probably scared them away.

Looking back there was a lot to be learnt and there still is, it took 6 months of leadership coaching to turn my perceived failure into something I could learn from and be grateful for. As part of my homework assignment to stop expecting so much of myself my coach suggested I try work during office hours only, this sent me into a flat-panic as I knew that it was only long hours and extra hard work that made me successful. At first I felt like my world was falling apart and every day I left the office, on time and in a panic that I didn’t finish my to-do list. I was wrong again, two weeks later after not working for an extra 3 hours every day I was happier and producing better quality work.

What do you think is a good leader? The question that inspired my next lesson, my answer: Someone who inspires, motivates and creates a happy team.

Wrong. Motivation and happiness is intrinsic. All you can do is create an environment conducive to collaboration and ease of work.

It all made sense but I had spent my life thinking that a good leader swoops in, scares the monster away and saves the day and everyone is happy. In my mind I thought that a leader should be the perfect role model who never makes a mistake and knows everything. In reality, I have learnt that being a good listener, being calm amongst the storm and providing direction and assistance wherever needed is all that is required of a good leader.

Leadership is a tough road but one that only requires enthusiasm, compassion and a keen interest in bettering yourself and others. The first step is to become your own master and manage your own expectations.

By: Nicky Henderson