How to be the Leader You Wish You’d Had

Even though I believe I am still 21, I have been working for 20 years! That is 20 years of successes, failures, adventures, amazing people, friendships, and more importantly, massive learning. Leadership is about learning from others, sharing knowledge, getting some things right, and getting some things wrong. Most critically, especially for female leaders, it is about owning your seat at the table.  It is about accountability, responsibility, setting a vision and owning your voice in that process.

What are the critical aspects of authentic leadership?

My leadership journey has established the below as what was critical in my life story.

As background, I am a first generation South African. Both my parents came to SA when they were very young. My grandparents on both sides kept Portuguese as their main language as they were not educated in SA.  They kept, in their view, ways and traditions they were raised with, so we were raised in a very strict, very catholic home.

As part of this culture, it was not important for females to receive a tertiary education.  However, my mom had a vision, a purpose, a drive that her children would go to university.  From going to the library every 2nd week as children (we were only allowed to restamp a book once), to working long hours and many jobs – my mom’s drive and determination saw my siblings and myself go to university and become what we wanted to be. My mom had a simple philosophy: be happy and try your best.  She was one of those parents who was proud if you got 50% – as long as you studied your heart out.  Obviously, we got the “you need to try harder next time” speech.

I studied finance and completed my articles, and during this process, I made a conscious decision to observe and learn as much as possible – learn from different types of leaders and their leadership styles, business models, revenue generation strategies and company strategies.

But at the heart of it all, my mom, siblings and early adulthood and career taught me:

  1. Set a vision/long term goal. Dream big and go for it!
  2. Be happy – enjoy the now.
  3. Life is journey: it will not always go the way you want it to, but learn, grow, and let go.
  4. Always try your best.
  5. It is ok to fail. It is how you handle failure that counts.
  6. Be grateful and be humble.
  7. Believe in something bigger than you.

Here is a roundup of the most important lessons I have learned about effective and authentic leadership:

1. Set a vision

This reminds me of a line from Mary Oliver’s famous poem, The Summer Day: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Set and understand your long terms goals. Understand what person you want to be and what you want to stand for.  What mark do you what to leave on the people in your life? What legacy do you want to leave behind one day?  We spend our lives comparing ourselves to other people. It is pointless – you will never be them and they will never be you.  Compare yourself to who you want to be and measure your growth on that.  You are unique, embrace it.

2. Work on yourself holistically

Understand that your life has many parts.  Career is one aspect.  You need to work on all of them.  For example:

  • Spiritual – means something different to everyone but define what it means to you and understand that we are a part of something bigger than us. Find the way it fits into your life – be it nature, animals, or religion. It is an aspect that needs to anchor you in life.
  • Financial – ensure you start to plan early. From saving to a RA, even if it’s a nominal amount, pay yourself first and set yourself up for the future.
  • Career – plan and do what you love. There may be many stumbling blocks, but determination and hard work will get you there.

Basically, have a look at each aspect of your life, understand what it means to you, what drives you and what you want for each aspect.

3. Life is about your mindset

watch this video based on the book “Lean In” to really understand the topic of mindset:

I love this video.  Yes, we need people to support us, yes, we work in teams.  But we cannot be sitting back and waiting for something or someone to come to us, we cannot wait for someone to pave our way.  We need to look at our mindset, we need to believe that not only are we enough, but we can rock anything we put your minds to. We need to step up, create a space for ourselves, be daring and own our own destiny, and the starting point is your own mindset.

4. Everyone is a leader

Start defining your brand and leadership style early. Be curious, ask questions, support others, and show compassion.  It is all about following your passion, positive thinking, having fun and giving back.

You need to understand who you are, embrace and love it every day.  You are the only one who can hold yourself back.  So, be unique and be you. Be the leader you wish you had.

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