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Lessons from a leadership coach. Letting go.

So often as leaders, we focus on what we need to add to our skillset to be the best leader we can. But letting go can be as powerful as adding to build our leadership abilities and improve our leadership style. With more than 20 years leadership experience and as a leadeship coach, I’ve learned a lot along the way. 

Here are a few things I learned to let go of on my own leadership journey. 

The need to have all the answers

As a young pharmacist, I used to think that as the professional in the team, the manager of the team, I had to know everything and have an answer for every query or problem my team brought to me. A few months in my team told me that in the early days they thought I was a bit stand-offish. I was stressed! At 23, I was never going to have all the answers. I was suddenly responsible as a professional and leading a team of experienced people when I myself had no experience as a leader. 

Thankfully, I was working for a large company and in a supported environment. I was introduced to coaching and leadership within weeks of taking that role. It gave me the confidence to have coaching conversations with my team about the best way to deal with the issues they brought me. To help them use their experience to come up with the best solutions and to learn from them. I built strong relationships with my team that allowed us to come up with solutions together.  I surrounded myself with experienced mentors who I could learn from. 

Experience has taught me that I don’t have to know every answer, every detail and be the best person in the team at delivering. My role is to support my team to be the best people and, as a leadership coach, to support my clients to find the best way forward for them. 

The idea that there is always a right answer

There may be no right answer. There may be several. 

Involving my team in discussions about how we develop the business and listening to their ideas and concerns has shown me how the right answer for me isn’t always the right answer for everyone else. 

Having open dialogue about how we move forward, agreeing among the team to test and review new ways of working  – even if we don’t all agree on what the best course of action is –  helped me to build a happy team who were open to change and honest about what worked and didn’t work for them, helping me to create the best service for my clients. 

The need to have control

Oversight, yes. Control, no. Knowing when to let go and give my team autonomy opened my eyes to the possibilities for growing my business. Working with teams of exceptional professionals, many of whom knew more than I did about the intricacies of the services we were delivering, I learned to communicate expectations clearly, give my team autonomy on how they delivered those expectations and review progress with them regularly so I could support as necessary, learn from them, and ensure learning was shared among the team. 

Loosening the reins freed me up to look more strategically at what we were doing, to build relationships with our customers and expand our delivery and gave my team the confidence to bring new ideas and challenge when they felt things weren’t as they could be. 

And now, as a leadership coach and consultant, I delegate the tasks that I am not so good at, that take up more time than they should and that are far better done by someone else i.e. accounting, administrative tasks, web developing…I could go on!

The need to be everyone’s friend

A respected boss once told me “You don’t need to be everyone’s friend”. It took a while for that to land with me. I’m a friendly sort of person, it’s one of the things people say about me when I ask for feedback. It’s not something I find easy to switch off and I can find it challenging when I need to deal with conflict situations. But it’s helpful in establishing working relationships. 

As a leader, these relationships are key, but not everyone will want to be friends, or indeed think you should be friends. More important is that you are trusted as a leader, respected and seen as a fair boss. And you build this by being self-aware, showing empathy, listening and treating everyone in your team fairly.  

Recognising that everyone in your team is different, understanding what they need from you as a leader and creating an environment where there are no ‘favourites’ and everyone feels valued as part of the team is more powerful than building friendships. Mutual respect and understanding will cultivate a healthy and effective working environment. 

The need for everything to be perfect

You will make mistakes. Your team will make mistakes. Things won’t always go the way you planned. How we deal with these things shows more about our calibre as a leader than the fact that they happened. 

I have spent much of my career working in healthcare environments where whether you admit your mistakes or you don’t can have significant repercussions for your patients and your career. But still, I work with teams who don’t feel they can admit errors without admonition. And with teams where errors may have less severe consequences but where they are still afraid to speak up when things go wrong. 

Cultivating a culture of trust and learning with your team, where mistakes and failures are seen as opportunities to develop and grow, will strengthen your team and increase their job satisfaction. Teams that fear repercussions and blame only hold things from you and fear of taking risks or using initiative stifles growth. 

Click here to learn more about what a leadership coach can do to help you. 

If you want to develop your leadership skills, or those of your team, book a call to discuss how Ascenso Coaching can help you and your business. 

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