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  • Writer's pictureDr. Pamela Davis

A Guide for New Leaders

So you want to be a leader?

There are tons of books, articles, and media on becoming a leader. Warren Bennis, John Maxwell, Stephen Covey, and Peter Drucker are popular names that appear at the top of the list of leadership and management gurus. Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, Rosalind Brewer, and Madam Vice President Kamala Harris ring out as top leaders in their area of expertise as well.

Literary leadership experts, both authors and speakers, have served as advisors to the business world at large. As they share their philosophy with CEOs, business execs, and even the President of the United States, the exposure adds context and validity to the value of their learning systems.

It was not long ago that I was an aspiring leader. I almost felt like the sixth man on the bench; sitting at the edge of my seat. Nervously bouncing up and down, as if I am waiting for the coach to glance toward the bench. In those days, I wanted to make sure my boss and other decision making leaders saw me and knew that I was not only eager, but ready to go in. I was super anxious to prove to my boss, others, and the world even, that I had the makings of a great leader. You see, I had been getting ready or so I thought. Leading can sometimes be misleading. It can look like it is easier than it really is. Here are my thoughts on what you should consider if you are interested in becoming a leader.

A guidebook for new leaders:

First, you should spend some time observing leaders. Consider your work industry or field of study and then identify leaders within your organization locally, regionally, and nationally. Observe their leadership style. Are they authoritative or democratic? Pace setting or coaching? Check out The University of Central Florida's description of leadership styles. No one style is better than the other. What makes a great leader is how they use their style to move the organization. You should also observe the leader's messaging of their vision. Without vision, leaders struggle to gain followers and buy-in. Take notice to what goes into the leaders' decision-making process. Depending up their leadership style, this process will look differently. Lastly, pay attention to the leader's communication style. Does the leader communicate directly with the members or is this task delegated? When the leader communicates is it orally or written communication? It is important to consider the means leaders choose to engage their audience and determine which methods are most effective. Through observation, you can internalize how leaders interact with their teams. With this information, you should be able to gauge and assess where your strengths reside in these key areas.

The next tip is to read. This recommendation is rather straight-forward. Select text that aligns with your work industry. Leadership in education, leadership in medicine, or leadership in non-profits... Absorb as much content knowledge as you can about the field across the local, regional and national levels. While you are taking this information in, it is important to figure out your where you stand on certain topics. For example, if you are in education, what is your opinion on distance learning, in-person learning, keeping teachers and students safe during a pandemic - inform your response by reading and drawing upon your experience. As you read, you also need to recognize those areas that you are good at and what you are struggling with. We can not be good at everything. Acknowledge objectively where you stand on those hot topics.

Research - this piece of guidance spins off of the tip to read. Ultimately, you need to brand yourself as a subject matter expert in a key area. Researching topics that you are passionate about will help you increase your knowledge so that you can hone the skills that will help you demonstrate your leadership ability.

Take action to acquire the content knowledge, command the room, and communicate effectively. Whether it is earning a degree, certification, or attending a conference, take the necessary steps to obtain the content knowledge that the leadership role you are seeking requires. Command the room - this phrase speaks to your ability to walk into a room and draw the attention of those assembled. This is to say, that your leadership style carries a weight with it wherein your mere presence is regarded at high value by the members you lead. It is difficult to teach someone how to do it - you either have it or you don't. Your communication style needs to be without flaws. Both your oral and written forms of communication should be free from grammatical and spelling errors. It should also be clear, concise, and timely.

Lastly, as a new leader, you should look the part. Some would argue that what you wear doesn't matter, it's what you do and say. I am of the opinion that often you are seen before you even get a chance to speak. In the words of a former colleague - a leader should: be well read, be well spoken, be well qualified, be well informed, and be well dressed. What you choose to wear should not compromise the role you fill. As you are observing leaders in your field, pay attention to those that dress well and those who are missing the mark.

These tips will provide the initial foundation as you sharpen your leadership skills.

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