Lessons from the Other Side

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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