Leadership isn’t for everyone. That’s not to say that there is some innate class of people destined for roles as leaders of men and women, but rather that the pressures and responsibilities that come with leadership lie uneasy upon those who would rather be on a team rather than leading it. And that’s ok; a world with nothing but leaders would be disastrous, with billions of people at each other’s throats over who should be in charge. But for those seeking out positions as leaders, there are principles and ideas that should always be kept front of mind to ensure that you don’t lose your direction as you seek to direct others.
Through this series, I hope to offer my own set of tips and insights to help new leaders looking for direction, or confirmation of their own instincts, as well as seasoned leaders looking for reminders of what they should stay vigilant about practicing. .
What any leader needs, almost by definition, is goals. Without goals, there can be no common purpose for a group of people, and thus no need for a leader. Thankfully, there are no directionless groups save college students, and most of those groups require one person to make final decisions and set a course of action, and fortunately for our purposes, many of those same groups exist inside of businesses.
As a leader, you’re responsible for setting the goals that your team are pushing towards, and that responsibility can feel daunting in the absence of direction from above, as is the case for founders and CEOs and those without anyone to answer to. You’re setting the big picture goals for your team, and while that might seem like a relatively easy task, it does require a bit of consideration as to how to set particular targets.
Take a product launch — a pretty clear case of an obvious goal that your team should be focusing its energies on. But what falls under the product launch? What are the more pressing immediate goals that need to be met in order to move onto the next stage of the project? Viewing your roadmap to launch as an actual roadmap, you wouldn’t start a cross-country trip from New York to Los Angeles by simply saying you’ll take a car and use roads, and you’ll arrive when you arrive; you set day-by-day targets for miles covered, with locations in mind to stop for the night. The big picture has to be a collage of smaller pictures, more manageable tasks that make the end result seem like the easily achievable culmination of a days’ work, done over and over.
Towards that goal of achieving overall success with big projects, you’ll want to divvy up goals to the individual members of your team. It’s a seemingly simple task, until you remember that people are never simple, as much as we wish they were from our perch as a leader. Obviously you will task each according to their skills and the position for which they were hired, but there are always other considerations: how fast does one person work, relative to the rest of the team? Who works well together, and who needs to be left alone to do what they need to do? And within those two, whose work is contingent upon someone else’s, and could be held up by delays outside their control? It’s the people that require as much management as the project themselves, and even the best of teams need a bit of finessing to get them working up to their abilities.
Amidst all of this goal-setting, it’s important for you to not lose sight of your own goals and ambitions among the din of the daily grind. It’s easy to say that your team’s success is your ultimate goal, and that their accomplishments will ultimately reflect back on you, but you should still take time to tend to your own personal development along the way. While it’s undoubtedly true that your team being successful is going to be a big part of any consideration for a raise or promotion, you should also take advantage of opportunities to fulfill your own desire to learn and grow in a way that broadens your professional horizons. Failing to do so might leave you feeling trapped and embittered about your current role, and a miserable, uncommitted leader doesn’t help the team.
Setting goals for your team is the first and primary function of a leader, and as such it’s a vital one to your future success. It requires you to know what you hope to achieve and how, and the people at your disposal to achieve it. It’s certainly not the only skill needed for successful leadership, but it’s one that, if done correctly, can set the framework for everything else you need to do. #onwards.