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I have a knack for creating hardships for myself. Jack Ma espouses hiring someone better than you if you want to succeed. I did exactly that!

As a young upstart manager at 28 yrs, I recruited 2 managers aged 36 yrs and 33 yrs (more experienced & vocal) because I believed in hiring smart people, I just needed to manage. I was prepared to take risks as I was an optimist and believed that I could hone my leadership skills.

Little did I know what I would be in for. My peers were betting that I would be replaced.

For the first 8 mths, I had sleepless nights, from the stress of managing difficult staff, a deteriorating self esteem & confidence. I read on leadership, attended NLP courses, to overcome my personal challenges. I had been too absorbed on how I performed as a manager than that of my team. To add to that, I was demanding. That took a toil on how I lead.

I did a lot of self reflection over the sleepless nights and I began to focus on my folks, listening more than directing & solving problems. I refused to give up and kept working on my leadership to prove my naysayers wrong. I won them over by spending more time to know them at a personal level. Focusing on performance objectives and taking away my unconscious biases help too. We also celebrated success as a team.

By the 2nd year, I had the best performing team within the division, rolling out many firsts in the industry. My 2 managers were with me for >5 years. They not only supported me but they led their respective team well too. They rallied behind me.

#LeanIn and that was the start of my leadership journey. I was glad I pushed the limit & felt vindicated. 

My peers lost their bet.

Here are the three things I learned

(1)  Focus Outward

In leading a team, take a personal interest in your team members and be genuine. Value your people and demonstrate that you care in such a way that your followers know it. Create an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and their well being. Have career conversations to understand their “Why” and support their development.

It’s Ok to over communicate. Be sure to clearly articulate a clear vision/strategy for the team to ensure alignment.

And don’t take things too seriously. When things don’t go well, focus on the actions rather than the person. Take risks and develop a learning culture. And celebrate success as a team.

(2)  Drive Accountability

Coaching unlocks a person’s potential by helping him understand his goals to drive accountability and motivation. Look for teachable moments, do not accumulate feedback till the annual reviews. In driving accountability (& commitment), always uphold a high standard, move goal poles for your staff so that they can keep improving. Followers want to work for bosses with high professional standards and integrity.

Be empathetic yet focus on performance objectives to ensure fairness.

(3)  Embrace Diversity

No man is an island. Many managers come in to a new role and try to replace the existing team with people of the same working style/type like them. I have learned the power of diversity. When I build team I always look for diversity in terms of personal strength eg. introvert vs extrovert, thinker vs feeler etc. It adds colour to the team but more importantly inject new ideas and drives a more collaborative culture.

Every new leadership opportunity presents a different experience as you work with different people. It’s important to develop self mastery and strive to be better.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” Neale Donald Walsch