The journey from an individual to a leader is not for the faint of heart. It’s a path ridden with challenges at almost every turn you make. And it’s an unending meandering path you’re on! But this is a road I chose to take. To anyone wearing these shoes right now, NO, it doesn't get easier. And that's the beauty of it. I work with a lot of new leaders and first time startup founders, and I hope my experience will be a relevant piece for all of you.

Diego Maradona was arguably one of the greatest football players of all time. He’s scored over 300 goals in his career and even won the World Cup for Argentina. Two goals in the World Cup final against West Germany won his country the biggest prize in football. What a player!

Maradona as a player for Argentina

It’s only natural that football’s greatest hero would then move on to represent various clubs as a coach / manager. But that was the beginning of his downfall. In his career, he has represented eight different clubs as manager and the Argentinian National Team but has failed to deliver anything substantial.

Maradona as manager of Argentina

But when you think of it, this is not just in football. It happens at the workplace as well. A lot of first time entrepreneurs have excelled as individuals and managers at top companies, sometimes even as Product Development experts, but struggle with getting their startup off the ground. Neoito works with startup founders, VCs to build amazing products and help startup founders become thought leaders rather than focus on Product Development. There are just too many examples where someone that excelled as an individual just could not handle the transition to a leadership role. And I was one of them.

First things first. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about we. So it’s no more how much work you can get done, it’s about how much you can help your team get better results than you’ve ever got.

From my experience, an effective way to build a rockstar team has been:

  1. Learn a skill
  2. Be the best at it
  3. Hire someone
  4. Help them be better than you were (For me, this is what delegating is, it’s not asking someone to do your work and scampering off to your cabin)
  5. Learn something new
  6. Repeat from 2

It took me 14 months (actually 15 now, since it's been 1 months since I started writing this article) to finally make that transition, and I’m still just getting better. I would suggest you need to aim to dedicate 60% of your time with your team and rest of the 40% for your own strategic thinking and development. Apologies to those that I might not have given enough time to during my initial months of the transition. Below is a quick look of my calendar in April 2018 and April 2020.

My calendar in April 2018

I have more one-on-one time with the team at the start of the week and a team review meeting every Friday. I haven’t been perfect in keeping this up, but it’s been a step in the right direction and I have a much deeper connection with everyone in the team now.

Calendar in April 2020

Next, you need to let go of the feeling that it’s only really done when you do it on your own. When you delegate a task and you feel, “that’s not how I would do it”, or, “I could have done it better”, patiently explain to them why you do things the way you do. That way, your teammates align with your vision and can bring ideas of their own; mostly better ones.  It’s inevitable that you’ll have some feedback for your team. When speaking with them, always stop on a DIME (Describe the problem and the impact, Inquire why they did it their way, Manage the situation suggesting change towards an appropriate behaviour and Encourage them enough to make that change)

And when you start becoming a great manager, you realise there’s something missing. But if you're too tied up into your day-to-day work, you might not realise that. What your team is missing is a Leader. This is a whole different ball-game. The entire mindset is different. Award-winning Author and Leadership Consultant Sara Canaday's LinkedIn course is a great place to start, and here are a few points taken from it.  

Here are three things you can do to make that transition:

1. Enhance your personal growth: Self awareness is very important for a leader. If you are someone that exhibits anger for the smallest of things, recognise that this emotion will undermine your value as a calm, poised and collective leader that works well under pressure. Through your calm and poised nature, visionary thinking and influential decision making, you can create a following that looks up to you. And no, I’m not talking about social media followers, but the real ones.

People tend to think that a leader is someone that can bring change in others. Though true in a way, I believe it’s the ability to bring change to yourself. Increasing self-awareness is key to becoming a good leader.

Practice emotional intelligence. Yes, unlike your IQ that is mostly unchanged, your EQ can be improved with practice.

Develop a presence: Make sure you look and sound like a leader. Use a strong voice, excellent eye contact and articulate speech. Increase your relatability. Work hard to put others at ease.

Be a thought leader: A thought leader is endlessly curious. They have an ability to connect the dots on all of the ideas and concepts in interesting and unusual ways, giving them a unique point of view. This is possible because of constant knowledge acquisition.

2. Expand your perspective: Take time out from your day-to-day operations and think on a macro level of the company’s business plans.

Learn to innovate: It’s not a task that you just do, it’s a mindset. Innovative leaders are willing to look at everything with a fresh lens even if that means unlearning things, and trying something new.

Improve your decision-making: Just because a decision has been always made that way, does not mean it’s the best way to do it.

3. Commit to people and relationships

It’s one thing to work hard, be more strategic and innovative, but the real test of a true leader is their ability to coach other people to make them more successful. Great leaders know how to unleash great talent. To do this, you need to get a deeper connection with your employees, understand their needs and wants. This will help you coach them better. It’s also a great way to set personal challenges to the employees that they’ll constantly strive to impress you with.

And finally, NETWORK! You need to go crazy networking, this just increases your knowledge level exponentially. Just think of it as compound interest. As the years go by, your knowledge starts growing exponentially. It opens new realms and broader support for you to achieve your goals.

Being a leader is not a destination, it's a never ending journey. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.