10 Things I Learned About Leadership When I Became a Leader

You may have found yourself suddenly plunged into a challenging leadership role and you are overcome by shock, fear, and disbelief. Toyin Adejumo was once in that situation, and she now shares her advice on how to excel and rise above the challenges.

By Toyin Adejumo

In the last week of April 2016, I was awakened by a phone call that nearly stopped my heart beat. It wasn’t one of doom like most of you reading this will think but it wasn’t what I had in mind for the week either.

Photo courtesy – Toyin Adejumo

This was meant to be one of those weeks where I focus on closing monthly financial activities like I have done for the last two years, but all that changed in a moment – I was going to start leading 130 people.

That announcement came with SHOCK, FEAR, and DISBELIEF! But there was no time to wallow in all of that, as work needed to start immediately.

Here’s What I Learned

It’s okay to be scared – it’s just not okay to allow fear to control you. It’s okay to be shocked, as long as you don’t stay shocked; snap out of it. Allow yourself a few moments or days to get used to the idea and pick yourself up like the conqueror that you are.

Fast forward to one year later, to this blissful time when I have moved on to another role in another country, I thought to share the little things I have learned while on this leadership journey:

  1. Believe in yourself. If you were offered a particular “challenging” role by someone, chances are they believed you can handle the job and excel at it 100%, so why worry.
  2. Seek the help of Advisors/Mentors. Firstly, your manager who you report to should be your closest and utmost confidant. They want you to succeed, else why will they entrust you with that job? Secondly, get a few experienced people you trust around you to confide in. It’s even better when they have been in your shoes previously. They can share their past mistakes, and success stories which could help you on your way to success.
  3. Get ready to learn in abundance. Alvin Toffler, a writer and futurist had this to say: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Pretend as if everything you have known up till that moment is “wrong” and open your mind to learn from those around you. No matter how new they are in the company, chances are they know something you don’t. Read. Read everything you can lay your hands upon – about the business or outside the business, just read!
  4. Incorporate the MBWA approach. I find the Management By “Wandering” Around’s approach to be quite helpful rather than waiting most of the time for employees to come to you with their problems. Going to them e.g. stopping by at their desks to check on them and the work they do would help them feel that you truly care about them.
  5. Listen. The 80/20 rule dictates that good communication is about spending a majority of your time listening, and minority of your time talking. It is very easy to break this rule when communicating with your employees. Listen to everything – what they are saying and what they are not! Most of the time, body language will give away what they truly intend to communicate to you.
  6. Throw away the female leadership myths. In my career journey, I have come across several fallacies and/or perceptions that female leaders are more difficult, and are harder to impress than their male counterparts from a job delivery perspective. This then makes the female leader have to work twice as hard as the male leader, in order to “earn” their place in Leadership. We have heard the stories about how men just do it better, women get too emotional, and so on. And to this I say, earn your place and be proud of your accomplishments and keep your head above the fray, while at the same time being fair, firm, and hardworking. Don’t try to act like a man, be the woman that you are. For example, the female trait of being a nurturer makes the female leader more empathetic to her colleagues. Take these “disadvantages” and use them to your advantage.
  7. Be Humble. That is first advice my former boss and a few other managers gave me. It helps your employees connect with you better and improves communication. It also makes you “relatable” and “reachable” as an individual.
  8. Recognize the importance of time management. I learned this from my mentor. Easier said than done, but it’s important to create a pattern/plan for yourself each day. It doesn’t matter if you are able to finish only one thing out of ten on your to do list, gradually you will get everything done. 24 hours a day will never be enough – trust me on this one.
  9. Filter opinions. Keep your head down and eyes on the prize. A lot of people will have opinions on how you should do things. It is what it is – AN OPINION!
  10. Don’t forget to breathe! Take a breather every now and then to avoid getting burnt out. Take a day off if necessary to recharge. Take your vacation days and do not take work with you. Give some time to yourself and your family – one day, you will thank you for it!

Toyin is Business Controls Leader for IBM Systems Hardware in Middle East and Africa

If you want to learn more about how IBM supports women empowerment, read the stories about #WomenAtIBM.

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