Lessons from the Other Side

by  Becky Robinson  |  Self Leadership

This summer, I made the transition from team member to team leader.

And now I understand how different the world looks from here, how different the world looks from there.

The leader I followed as a team member is someone I admire, and working with him, while not always exactly what I expected, confirmed my belief that he is gifted, intentional, and dedicated in his work.

As I build my own team, I’ve found myself looking to emulate his example — not surprising —  but in more ways than I might have expected. I hear his voice in my head.

I hear myself use some of his turns of phrase, especially in individual meetings with my team members. Kevin would always say “What’s on your list?”  — He gave me the chance to begin each meeting with whatever was on the top of my mind, focusing on my priorities first. This is something I try to do with my team members as well.

More than that, I have a much deeper and clearer understanding and level of empathy for how difficult it is to be a leader.

Have you done this: looked at a leader and projected your own expectations and preferences onto the situation?

If I were in charge, I would…

Why isn’t…

I wish my boss would… 

I’m disappointed that… 

From this side of leading the team, I’ve realized, more than ever before, the difficult juggling act between serving clients and serving my team. I’ve gotten a (small) taste of the difference in pace of work a leader faces.

And, to be fair, I am almost always home, at my desk, which allows me a different level of comfort and stability, making my situation much easier than Kevin’s, since he travels most weeks while still giving time and attention to his team.

Here are my first few lessons from the other side:

Leading is harder than I thought.It’s easy to judge from the sidelines, to  determine the should-haves and should-bes. It is far more difficult to actually live according to the ridiculously high standards I set.

Leading is about the team. I appreciate much more fully the sincerity of Kevin’s words of appreciation and gratitude. Kevin regularly expressed his thankfulness for the team’s work, and while I believed and appreciated his words, I understand more fully how important the team is to a leader. I could not do what I am doing without my team. The fact that I am a leader is all about them — because of them and for them. Kevin really got that.

Leading is more rewarding than I could have imagined. Seeing ideas come to life, seeing values incorporated into practices, seeing the joy my team experiences in their work — it is all better than I envisioned. The level of enjoyment of work seems somehow altogether different and better from here, perhaps because I more fully appreciate the behind the scenes effort that makes it possible.

I know that this is just the beginning of my journey as a leader and I will likely understand and appreciate Kevin and other leaders more as time goes on.

Tell me something! What do you understand as a team leader that you did not comprehend as a team member? If you are a team member, what would you like your leaders to understand about your perspectives?

Photo (c) Molly Page

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About The Author

Articles By becky-robinson
I am the owner of Weaving Influence and the leader of the Weaving Influence team. We help authors and thought leaders grow their online influence. I am also a wife and mom of three daughters, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, a good cup of coffee, and dark chocolate.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Angie Butcher  |  20 Jul 2012  |  Reply

It’s great to hear your perspective. Not everyone can make the switch so gracefully. Great thoughts.

Taffy Williams  |  20 Jul 2012  |  Reply

I share several of your experiences. Over the years I have found myself using phrases of former mentors. Running activities like they might have done.

More interestingly, I have worked with some “leaders” or managers, that I learned how to not manage. The negative events can help shape your ability on leading as much as the positive. The responses of the team members to those negative events reinforce the more positive approaches.

I now assist several companies and teams. I still make mistakes and likely show too much ego, but I hope everone i work with learns. I write a blog and for an online news paper for the sole purpose of providing educational materials for startups, entrepreneurs, and leadership. It is most rewarding when someone takes the time to tell me they learned something or like what I wrote.

I like what you wrote and hope it helps others as well.

Taffy Williams
Links to blogs, articles and other materials care found in the weblink above.

Jeff Orr  |  20 Jul 2012  |  Reply

So true Becky! I remember having all those leadership thoughts as a second-in-command – (If I were the leader I would…, etc.). It was an amazing awakening when I was promoted to that top spot. Some of it was what I expected. Some of it was not at all what I expected! But all of the experience was beneficial. I grew more as a leader in the first few months than I had previously in the previous 6 years.

John E. Smith  |  21 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Hi, Becky

As always, thoughtful and thought-provoking:)

I think that what you are describing is why I feel so strongly about the need for both formal and informal leadership development throughout a person’s career. As we move from one level of leadership to another, new perspectives appear and new learning is needed for us to succeed. Very seldom does “bigger and more” work as a leadership strategy, because the dynamics and considerations are not just larger in scale, but different.

As we grow, our careers do not always continue upward toward increased responsibilities and scope, but sometimes shift sideways and move in directions not previously anticipated. This is reality for many in the new economy, where the traditional career path simply does not exist anymore.

However, the need for new learning at every turn is and will always be part of our personal journey.

Thanks for a very useful post:)


Kent Julian  |  24 Jul 2012  |  Reply

The best lessons on how to be a great leader are usually learned first by being a good follower.
This teaches us how to work effectively with others and helps understand inter-dependence. Wonderful post, Becky.

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