What I learned as a leader

Last Update: Jan 09, 2022

Change is a necessary part of life. More importantly, it’s also an essential part of self growth. Growth occurs when we extend ourselves beyond the limits of our comfort zones and venture into the unknown where everything is uncomfortable. The more uncomfortable we are, the higher the likelihood that the challenge will make or break us.

Five years ago I found myself on the precipice of a major decision, having been offered an opportunity to move from a purely technical role into a management position. I had zero management experience but a keen willingness to learn and grow my skills in whatever field I could. I took the position with the intention of continuing to grow my technical skills while at the same time cultivating new business relationships and building up my business acumen.

The reality was somewhat different; the next two years were a difficult, turbulent time in my life as I struggled to adapt to various aspects of the role. In particular I found it difficult to obtain the same feeling of achievement that had been so abundant in the technical space.

The paradigm shift was massive. Deliverable timelines were suddenly much longer, spanning years instead of months. Victories were much smaller too, and I often felt disparate around my own perceived lack of value that I was adding to the organization.

I often thought of calling it quits; going back to being purely technical. That space was well understood and was comfortable. Sure, challenges existed, but in my mind those challenges could be overcome, as opposed to the myriad of insurmountable challenges I felt in the management position.

At some point though I gained a certain level of comfort and confidence and things slowly started falling into place.

An integral part of my success (and I want to genuinely convey that I use that word without any intention of hubris) has been as a result of the incredible relationships that I have forged with my staff along the way. I have been truly blessed to work with an incredible bunch of individuals.

Their success has been my success.

I want to expand on that statement a little more. I have taken immense satisfaction in helping to develop my staff. I have genuine respect and admiration for them all; for their dreams, goals and aspirations. I understand that they, like me, are just human beings doing their best to find their way through this world and to make an impact on it in their own way. I understand that they have ups and downs, good days and bad. I understand that they have lives and families outside of work, as well as their own problems, personal hangups and issues. I understand that no two individuals are alike, even though some may share common characteristics or traits.

I have always had a strong belief that people should be treated fairly and with respect. My responsibility as a manager is to ensure the success of the business unit for which I am responsible and thereby ultimately ensure the success of the organization. For me, that meant ensuring that I cared for the people reporting to me who were essential to achieving defined goals required for the success of the business. It meant always doing what was right for them and the company, so that no matter what, I could rest easy at the end of each day knowing that I had done everything in my power to develop, empower and make them successful.

Something wonderful happened along the way. I discovered that people respond in the most phenomenal ways to a manager that not just pretends to care, but who genuinely cares. People quickly discover when their leaders are disingenuous or incongruent, and they know when their leaders actually give a damn.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m the best thing since sliced toast. I’m not. I’m also not arrogant enough to sit here and pretend that I don’t have plenty of room for improvement. I have tons of areas that I can improve in but I also understand that my genuine desire to assist and grow my team has been an integral part of my success and as the years went by I got immense pleasure and job satisfaction in assisting “them” to achieve their dreams wherever I possibly could.

Change is a necessary part of life. I’ve come to a crossroads in my life and I will be moving on from my management role to join a new organization. I will miss the close relationships that I have built up over the years and the many people who have made as big an impact on me as I hope I have made on them.

A word of advice: if you’re making the transition from technical to management, hang in there. It’s tough but the growth you will gain is well worth the discomfort. Just remember that it’s the people that matter and you will make a success of everything you do.