Throughout my career, I’ve worked with many types of leaders – some of them amazing, and some, not so great. Each of them were different in their management style and while (I’m sure) they meant well, not all management methods were suitable for a talent like myself.
I’ve worked under unreasonable bosses including one who was verbally and psychologically abusive. And I’ve had bosses and mentors who groomed me in the best possible way and shaped me to become who I am today. There was one mentor who recognised my potential and did all she could to ensure I was always at my best game.
This was one person who wasn’t afraid of me succeeding her. One who was helpful in my development even till today, when we no longer work in the same office. I’ve also worked under supervisors who were only interested in their career growth, with no regards for mine. You’ll find plenty of those in the corporate world.
When I became the creative head of my agency, I found myself in a situation where I needed to play leader, mentor and colleague to my teammates. I feel that’s a difficult role to play because you need to strike a good balance between all three.
I’m not a natural born leader. But I know leaders can be made and that I can be groomed to be a better leader. And the only way to grow as a leader is to be self-aware of one’s shortcomings.
I think what I’ve been doing wrong and what I failed (to a certain extent, refuse) to acknowledge is that not everyone is the same. They may work in the same or similar field, but each have different areas of strengths and potential for improvement.
I used to lament about how many of my agencies would send “lousy” copywriters and how they didn’t know how to do business writing. But even I couldn’t do business writing when I was an agency copywriter. It was only when I joined the corporate sector, that I picked this skill up.
I was upset at my team for not being able to come up with good enough captions and headlines. Not even the best in English language could hack the copywriting bit. But I wasn’t being fair to any of them. While some didn’t try at all (let’s not focus on those bunch of people), some of them really tried their best and their best still didn’t meet my expectations.
“Do not expect your team to be like you”, said my previous mentor. “Instead, help them grow in their own ability and hone their skills where possible.” While this is really tough to do, it is something I need to work on in order to be a better leader for my team.
I also feel perhaps I wasn’t clear enough with my expectations for the team, despite constant communication. Not everyone works the same way and I shouldn’t expect them to work the way I do. It’s just not realistic. I need to train them to learn to work in a way I would expect them to. I recall my previous boss expecting me to churn out “consultant-level” presentation decks, when I come from a creative background where we aren’t trained to deliver such decks. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.
Thinking back and also reflecting on how I’ve lead my team, I’m no different from my former boss. I failed to recognise and identify my team’s individual strength and have instead, chosen to nitpick on their weaknesses.
That’s when I realised, I’ve failed them as a leader.
I think it’s important to reflect and ask yourself what kind of leader do you want to be? What legacy do you want to leave behind? And how would you want your team to remember you by? I always believe a leader’s job isn’t to make things easy for the team, but to push them to make them better. And I’m working on being that kind of leader for my team — one who is tough but means well.