The Double Edged Sword of Leadership

As a leader or role model, you’re looked up to by your team, company, followers, fan-base and possibly even your family, social, cultural circles and friends as the central dependable and responsible person providing a hub of respectable and reliable answers, advice, logic, calmness, guidance and leadership. 

Yet, although many leaders bear the unique skills and gift needed to inspire encourage and to drive forwards positive changes and developments, many leaders and role models often feel the undeniable stress, pressures, responsibilities and expectations to be experienced as ‘strong’. Yet behind closed doors it can prove to be a very different reality. 

Underneath their strong robust exterior, leaders and role models can secretly find themselves crumbling or doubting themselves, their views, guidance and choices and unable to reach out for help. For fear of damaging their reputation, careers or personal lives, all too often these damaging untold and unheard fears are buried into silent anxieties, low confidence, feelings of inadequacy and loneliness which lingers and festers behind closed doors. 

This article comes at a time when the world needs leaders to guide, advise and to provide answers. Yet with an unprecedented pandemic circling the globe, how can leaders and role models continue to fight fear, successfully guide and lead and also have the support they need to feel heard and understood?

Here are 11 leadership truths and tips: 

1. Leaders are not superhuman but human beings

Whilst leaders and role models may be expected to be superhuman, there is a great quote which says ‘Behind every superman and superwoman is a Clark Kent or Diana’. 

Often when I coach anyone who is a leader or a role model, I need to remind them that whilst part of their identity is that of a leader, this is only a small part of who they are. There is so much more to them than just being a leader and they too are only human beings with individual feelings, hopes, goals, challenges and dreams. With this comes the acknowledgement that reconnecting to both their strengths, different needs and also vulnerability is important for both personal and professional development and wellbeing. 

2. Trustworthy Tribes 

All too often leaders can be surrounded by media scrutiny, cyber bullying, political conflict, sycophants and people who are looking to leverage themselves via the right social or industry connections, or teams and followers who expect leaders to present themselves as nothing less than perfect. Therefore, it’s crucial that leaders have a trustworthy tribe which surrounds and supports them. 

These tribes are made up of the people entrusted with the most personal information, intimate secrets, burdens, and the people who not only would celebrate success but also those who would be there when everything hits the fan. 

3. Boundaries

When you’re a leader or role model it’s sometimes difficult to create healthy boundaries within both your personal life, professional life. 

Try to consider do you need to have more of a work/life balance? What does this mean for you? What would this feel like and look like to you? What’s stopping you from scheduling this time or even taking action to experience a work/life balance? 

Make sure you have either short bursts of ‘me time’ personal business slots for yourself scheduled into your day to refresh and rejuvenate. Or perhaps try having daily time cut off points i.e. after a certain time you will leave work at the door, turn off or delegate your emails, work phone and focus on your personal life etc. 

Or perhaps try dedicating time to longer working days per week and finishing earlier on other days. 

4. Delegation 

Effective delegation is not a weakness or a luxury it’s a necessity if you want to avoid burn-out, lack of clarity, or ineffective patterns of behaviour. It also helps to communicate trust and to motivate your team or circle of support. 

Ask yourself if you’re running on empty, how can you expect to fully give your focus to guide and motivate others? A great analogy is if you were to try and drive your car on an empty tank of petrol, how can you then expect to continue with your journey and to reach your destination? 

Consider who is is the best trustworthy person to delegate to for each situation whilst aligning their strengths with the task in hand. Then make sure to follow up with them. 

5. It’s okay not to have all the answers  

Being a leader or role model, can put a huge strain and expectation on the need to be able to provide answers, guidance, inspiration and advice. Whilst at times, this may come more easily, at other times you may feel overwhelmed and secretly doubt your decisions, choices or perhaps even lack clarity and direction yourself.

Firstly, be kind to yourself and remember you are not superhuman! If you have time to consider options then step back, breathe, take a break, review, change your environment and recharge. 

If you need to make decisions quickly, it’s important to know what your options are, to review all the information, to be aware of other people’s views and and to trust your gut instincts in order to make an informed decision. 

6. Love and respect yourself 

Although we live in a world where external acknowledgment is praised and sought, it’s also true that sustainable confidence and respect does not initially come from other people but from within yourself. 

Ask yourself each day: how can you love and respect yourself today? What do you need each day in order to feel grounded, content and confident? What is preventing you from feeling this way? How can you positively challenge this? 

7. Difficult Decisions

When conflicts, challenges or changes arise, you may need to make difficult decisions not only for yourself, your professional career, environment or company but also for and on behalf for others. As a result, you may even find yourself feeling lonely, responsible and completely in the drivers seat as you weigh up all the options. 

Not all decisions will be liked or will be popular, whilst other choices will be met with positive reactions. At times like these, empathy is vital at this time both for yourself and others. Ask yourself what is objectively needed right now? What is the priority, goal and outcome? How can you both lead and become aware of other people’s views in order to work towards this vision? How can you prepare to be both assertive and objective yet at other times how can you communicate understanding, empathy and the awareness to be flexible when change happens? 

8. Leadership can trigger a Love Hate Relationship As a leader or role model, you’re not going to be liked by everyone so it’s important to feel okay with this. 

You will be faced with other people’s expectations, support, beliefs, projections, jealousy, assumptions and judgment. You may even be faced with bullying such as cyber bullying or even media or industry scrutiny and challenge. 

Whilst it may feel that you are alone, it’s important to know that you’re really not! The truth is that everyone encounters these experiences within everyday life although the degree to which people experience these situations will vary and being in the spotlight only leaves the door open for these types of intense experiences to drift in. 

It’s important to ask yourself: Am I okay or not with this? How can I protect myself in terms of setting my own healthy boundaries? Who or what supports me and who could I chat to? Which positive experiences or testimonials can I think of which disproves this negative situation? Is it my issue or someone else’s issue? How can I let go of anything I can’t control? How can I trust myself and my gut instinct?

It’s also hugely important to remember that most of the time, if someone is scrutinising you, it often has a lot to say about their own experiences, issues and insecurities rather than you.

9. Motivation 

Sometimes it’s may feel difficult to motivate yourself, yet alone the very thought of motivating other people.

Yet this is what leaders are expected to do! After all if a leader or role model is seen as losing interest, is lacking energy or seemingly unmotivated how can they expect to be trusted to motivate their team or followers? 

It’s vitally important to have down time to refuel in order to feel motivated, however it’s also important to inject motivation and energy back into your life and work. 

So if you’re in need of a boost of energy, why not review what or who inspires you? Ask yourself, what excites you about your life and work? Why did you initially want to become a leader or a role model? What motivated you when you first started on your journey and what motivates you now? What stops you from feeling motivated? How can you positively challenge this? 

10. It’s okay to ask for help 

Imagine you completely fill a vase full of water and then it then the glass begins to crack. The water then starts to drip and leak out of the vase. As a result, the vase is no longer fit for purpose. The same happens when anyone takes on too much emotional or physical stress in their personal or professional lives and neglects their own needs and wellbeing. 

Sometimes the most inspiring leaders are not the ones who hide their feelings or concerns, but those that acknowledge their human vulnerabilities (even if it is shared or needs to be acknowledged behind closed doors) 

By expressing yourself and confiding in your tribe, a coach a therapist or a trusted confidant, it will support you to understand what it means to have strength and vulnerability and, in turn, this empathy and understanding will reflect more positively in your own wellbeing, your understanding and empathy of others and will be reflected within your personal and professional life. 

11. Competition 

Whether you’re climbing within your industry, career ladder or personal life, or you’re now where you want to be, you will encounter competition, jealousy and even ambitious competitors climbing up closely behind you. 

The important thing is to have faith within yourself. You are where you are because you have the skills, the mindset, the motivation and vision, the passion and the gift of motivating and leading others. 

When you encounter competition try not to see it as a threat but as a learning curve, an experience, an opportunity to connect and to learn about what drives other people. 

Perhaps, competition can not only keep you on your positively motivated and on your toes but it can be used as a learning curve to drive forwards positive change.