6 Things I’d Tell Anyone New to Senior Leadership


6 Things I’d tell Anyone New to Senior Leadership.

Life is a great teacher.

When I was pregnant with my first child I used to wonder what on earth people did all day when they were at home with a baby. “How hard could it be?” I reasoned. Sleep deprived and feeling victorious if I made it out to the letter box before 4 in the afternoon, I had a completely different understanding some weeks later! There were many pieces of advice people gave to me in those weeks, some of it helpful, some of it not, but the life journey itself taught me more than I could otherwise have known. As I draw to the close of my first term heading a school campus, while I feel a bit like the chipmunk in the picture, I am again reflecting on what I have learned from this particular life journey… things I couldn’t know outside the act of stepping into the role. These are the 6 things I’d tell anyone new to a senior leadership role.

Walk in the authority you have.

Your people want you to lead. Don’t let them down. This is not about lording it over them or behaving in an autocratic, non-consultative manner. It is about being secure in the job you’ve been asked to do – caring more about the people you lead and leading them in the right direction than you do about what people think of you. Have you game face on. Be strong and just do it.

Go down on the deck but remember you need to steer the ship.

Don’t be ‘Captain Fluffy’ (West Wing fans will understand this). While it is important to roll up your sleeves and get involved, to be a servant leader, it’s not the job of the ship’s captain to be scrubbing the decks. By all means, grab a brush and get in and help from time to time but if you stay there failing to set the direction and steer the course, you’ll either end up on the rocks or face a mutiny. You need to be where people expect to find you when they need you the most. Be there. It’s your job.

Speak truth into the negative thoughts that tell you you can’t.

Sometimes things can feel so overwhelming… or can BE so overwhelming… that self-doubt creeps in. Thoughts turn to the negative – “What were they thinking asking me to do this?” “I have got no idea what I am doing!” “Any minute now, someone is going to see what I’m really like and then everyone will know I’m a fraud.” “I can’t do this!” The truth is, you can and you must. Senior leadership is about doing the hard stuff. Negative self-talk is paralysing. Don’t indulge in it. Speak the truth over it, out loud if necessary – I am not a fraud. I have skills, talents and the passion to do this. I am learning to do the things I’ve never done before. I’ve been asked to do this. I can and I will.

Make decisions. Period.

Being indecisive is one of the cruellest things you can be with your team. It leaves everyone confused and everything undone. There is an extraordinary scene in the mini-series, Band of Brothers, in which a poorly appointed leader can’t decide what to do in the heat of battle. He vacillates and cowers in the face of making a hard decision and in the process gets himself and many of his men killed. In the end a decisive leader gives a command with such strength that those carrying it out do so without fear and with success. Sometimes, even a poor decision can be better than no decision, because after all, we learn from mistakes. We don’t learn anything from nothing.

Your leadership will rise or fall on two things: character and judgement

All leaders need a good moral compass. There is no place in senior leadership for cowardice, dishonesty, misplaced loyalty or insincerity. When you act on principle, speak with candour, deal honourably with others and determine to take the path of incorruptibility you win respect and earn trust. Seek wise counsel to help you make judgements based on what is just, with the big picture in mind and the best interests of all uppermost in your thoughts. This is rarely easy. It is often costly. It is essential.

Conflict in Inevitable

Conflict is confronting and uncomfortable. Sometimes you will need to do and say things people don’t like. Early on in my leadership, my husband gave me a mug. Emblazoned across the front are the words, “Put your big girl panties on and just do it!” Learning to take the hard road, the right road, the necessary road can be painful but the health of your community or company may depend on it. Sometimes it may only be your conscience that knows it was right and that needs to be enough. Know this and be prepared.

Photo Credit: James Marvin Phelps via Compfight cc

5 thoughts on “6 Things I’d Tell Anyone New to Senior Leadership”

  1. Great advice. I agree… All six are fundamental to leadership. I particularly like the fifth one ~ ‘Your leadership will rise or fall on two things: character and judgement’. Thank you for sharing; I’m very new to blogging and Twitter. Very interesting & inspirational. Happy weekend to you.

    1. Thanks, Tanya. I appreciate the feedback. It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, so it was nice to come back and find this message. Glad you enjoyed the post

  2. Hi Melanie, have been lying low for a few years. Great insight to leadership in your blog. There is always the tension between biting the bullet and taking the team with you. The culture created (too often by default) will determine how decisions are made and the organization advances or in fact stalls. A long journey over the past 15 years plus detailed study and research has led me to some key insights about which I have needed to review my own leadership and management practice extensively.
    My observation in various organizations, spiritual and business, non-profit and profit is the primary failing of leaders is the lack of emotional intelligence when working with staff and teams in the organization. A leader can execute all 6 skills and practices mentioned yet still wreak havoc within any particular group, even to the point of complete stagnation. May I suggest 5 essentials to add to the 6, which I see very few practicing:
    1. Unwavering, clear and consistent communication of the vision and purpose for every action and decision. We live in an age when our teams want to know why. Explanation and reasoning plus openness to analysis will build trust and confidence in team members.
    2. The vision transferred into clear and concise big idea core strategies. Part of this process is uncovering core issues in the organization which will become the foundation of long term action plans with growth targets. Most small to medium organizations (by definition, less than 200 staff in Australia) think there are 2 dirty words: strategy and planning, because it’s believed each practice is only for large corporates. A recent study in the USA, showed management teams spend 1 hour month on strategy.
    3. Translate the vision and strategy into specific, detailed long term action plans. Form cross functional project teams so leadership standards are raised as project team leaders work across the organization and see how every part fits together. There are any additional benefits, but one key is growth happens as targeted because all staff are truly accountable.
    4. Perform everything with precision. Excellence is not good enough. Precision requires research, study, high level thinking, innovation and high level leadership practice. Very few apply the need for innovation to leadership and team practices in an organization. A conscious, planned pathway to a high level of precision will automatically demand consultation and a willingness for tema members to confront norms, management assumptions and decisions that are inconsistent or below the standard.
    5. Find a mentor of high character, competence and insight. Then mentor and give input to your key team members. Train your team leaders to mentor their teams. Colin Powell said if you are not spending 50% of your leadership time with people, the organization will suffer.

    My great concern about organizational development in Australia – in schools, universities, churches, businesses, non-profits and no doubt government – is we still swallow the giant lie behavioural change will happen when we lecture, teach, talk, have seminars and tell staff what to do. All research about behavioural change demonstrates only training in actions will produce change and growth. I encourage every leader to learn how to create those specific action plans to lead teams into change and development, often through self discovery.

    We have only scraped the surface.



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