Advice for New Leaders — Put People and Values First
As the global workforce reorganizes in an emerging post-COVID world, new leadership opportunities have begun to materialize for young people, particularly as many seasoned executives opt for early retirement and corporations reshuffle their leadership structure to accommodate more diverse and broadly experienced leadership teams. New leaders will face a wide range of challenges, some of them unforeseeable in the midst of so much economic and societal change. However, there are a few basic principles of leadership, as articulated by a host of savvy executives and business scholars, that will help you throughout your career.
Live your values
According to many experts, the first basic principle of leadership is to lead with your values. Doing so strengthens trust throughout the organization, which facilitates a leader’s ability to address all stakeholders’ desired outcomes. To suggest that the world’s most accomplished and inspiring leaders — from political figures like Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand to entrepreneurial philanthropists like celebrity chef Jose Andres — instinctively and strategically base their actions on their values would not be an overstatement.
After identifying your central values, your own and those of your organization, think about how they fit together. How are you and your personal values aligned with your company’s mission and purpose? How does your professional role exemplify these values? To what extent are you able to live your values through your job?
Focus on the commonalities between you and your company and prioritize those aspects that put the people involved with your organization first. Although no job is perfect and a leader often has to make hard choices, including from nothing but bad alternatives, there will be many aspects of your work that will afford you the scope to live out your values and serve as a role model.
Listen and inspire
Developing empathy via active listening, whether to board members, employees, vendors, customers, or other stakeholders, is one of several characteristics of inspirational leaders. This intentional practice entails focusing on others and what they’re trying to communicate, hearing them with genuine attention and empathy rather than preparing to interject with advice or anecdotes.
Let those with whom you work know that you are on their side, that you have a comprehensive understanding of their professional routines, concerns, and goals. Then, explore the means by which you can collaborate with them to address their problems and help them achieve their goals.
As a leader, you will derive immense satisfaction and benefit from this focus on listening, understanding, and empathizing. It can reveal new ways of establishing your own priorities and strategies or offer a much-needed course correction. It also plays a major role in building and sustaining a cohesive, collaborative team.
Exceptional leaders dedicate themselves to fostering growth, of both others and themselves. Toward this end, they live and work authentically, which implies a willingness to be vulnerable when appropriate and, when circumstances dictate, to solicit others’ help in problem-solving.
A refreshing consequence of this vulnerability and openness to assistance is increased empathy and camaraderie between leaders and their teams. Authenticity requires courage, and demonstrating it lets others know that you have the humility, perspective, and self-confidence to allow them to see that you’re someone who’s learning and developing — just like they are.
You’re human, and sometimes you will have to make unpopular decisions. Other times, you’ll be wrong. Keeping it real with your team means they’ll understand where you were coming from, even if they disagree or find themselves on the losing side of a particular argument.
High-performing teams are collaborative. At some point, you and your team will need to work through unanticipated problems, and solving them will draw on the best examples of teamwork you have to offer. The most workable solutions typically result from the rich variety of perspectives and insights that emerge when people from all levels of the organization contribute. Your job as a leader will be to analyze and synthesize these contributions, offering the best, most coherent, and most achievable solution(s).
One way to develop collaboration is to work with senior leaders on a mutual mentoring project. As a new leader, you stand to benefit from their history of successes and failures. In addition to picking up tips on things like managing your inbox, you could identify unique but possibly hidden pain points in your organization.
In return, you can offer senior leaders a wealth of insights into the benefits of new technology products, the importance of diversity as a component of a strong workforce, and how today’s emerging workforce thinks and plans. You could also inspire them to regain a sense of what they may see as their own lost optimism and hope. You could then better exercise the company’s — and your — values, together.