5 Harsh Truths Every Leader Needs to Know
“Expectations are the seeds of resentment,” a wise mentor once told me.
It’s a lesson that’s easy in concept but not in execution. An expectation is simply a belief that is future-focused that may or may not be realistic. Often we create unrealistic expectations about how something is going to play out, and when it doesn’t happen exactly that way, our world feels like it is crashing down.
This is especially true about our leadership journey. While it’s great to set our sights high, we have to be ready for the reality of leading in a world that’s always changing. It’s a delicate balance of being optimistic, realistic, and resilient.
Instead of setting a low bar about the future, the best leaders remain hopeful, at the same time, know the path to a brighter future is littered with challenges and struggles.
Leadership is a journey and not a destination.
I start every virtual leadership workshop off by sharing with participants that “leadership is a journey and not a destination.” The reason is simple; leadership is a series of skills that you can always get better or, unfortunately, get worse.
To help you get better on your leadership journey, it’s essential to level set on a few key leadership truths to help you avoid sprouting those seeds of resentment.
When things go wrong, it’s your fault.
The late great Kobe Bryant said, “Leadership is responsibility.” Bryant was right, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Just think of all the CEO’s who have been fired because of mistakes made by team members.
Since one of the essential elements of leadership is empowerment, by its very nature, other people will be making decisions where the information is (as they should).
As a result, mistakes will be made without your direct input or influence. Those mistakes ultimately fall on your shoulders because you are responsible for your people and the outcomes.
If you’re in a leadership position, taking responsibility when things go wrong is required.
With the responsibility also comes a deep sense of loyalty to a leader because people know their leader has their back.
When things go right, it’s because of your team.
It’s tempting and easy to take credit for a team’s success when you are at the top of the organization chart. But just because it’s tempting and easy doesn’t mean it’s right. Dave Cancel, the founder of Drift, said, “My best advice for leaders: when things go wrong, take all the blame. When things go right, give away all the credit.”
Following up and following through on this leadership truth is hard and takes practice. We are taught from the time we are in school to raise the trophy high above our heads, not above others.
Coach Nick Nurse of the Toronto Raptors gave us all a masterclass in how to properly give credit to their team right after winning NBA Championship last year. Your job is to mimic Coach Nurse the next time something significant happens to your team.
You can’t help everyone.
One of the hardest leadership lessons I learned is that you can’t help everyone. Each person is responsible for their actions and choices. As much as you want to choose for someone else, you can’t.
As I wrote in Building the Best, “A leader’s job is to set high standards and help your people meet and exceed them.”
Because people have free will to choose, it means some people simply won’t be on board and make the necessary decisions to be a part of your team, and that’s okay. Treat each person the same, and do your very best to help them succeed and then remove yourself from the outcome.
Your biggest hurdle is muting distraction.
In a business environment that changes by the hour, not the year, distractions are inevitable. It’s hard not to have your head on a swivel looking for new and better opportunities personally or the team. However, one of the things that makes a leader great is their ability to mute distractions.
One of the things that makes a leader great is their ability to mute distractions.
Distraction is anything that takes our focus away from where it needs to be at any given moment. Since eliminating distractions all together isn’t possible, I coach leaders to mute distractions by asking three simple questions:
- “Do you have defined priorities for your team?”
- “Is this distraction critical to our success right now?”
- “Can I (or we) do something about this distraction?”
The doubt doesn’t go away, keep leading anyways.
Each promotion or day is going to bring about unique challenges that will test your confidence, and doubt will ultimately follow. But doubt can be overcome by action.
The action required is choosing leadership. Everyone starts as a beginner. At some point, everyone experiences their “firsts” — first time leading a meeting, first time leading a project, first time leading a team, etc. That means you are built to learn and adapt as you go. Keep leading your best day in and day out regardless of the doubt you feel.
I am sure you have heard the saying, “The truth hurts.” It’s only correct when you don’t know the truth. It’s my hope, now that you either know or were reminded of these leadership truths, it will help you moving forward.
About the Author:
John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company making virtual training easy and effective. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.