Are you a new or aspiring CEO? Learn the leadership lessons I wish I learned before becoming a CEO and a transformational leader.
A leadership role does not suddenly bestow upon you the skill and talent of a tremendous and transformational leader. Successful people become leaders well before they ever officially take on the mantle of CEO.
The truth is the business skills you accumulate on your way to leadership positions are an important part in your evolution. But that doesn’t mean that you should wait to become an effective leader. The small steps you take today build the habits you need to be truly successful in a leadership role.
If you embrace the lessons you learn from inspirational leaders and other experts you look up to, you can start to hone the skills earlier and use them throughout your career.
I’ve learned so much over the course of my career. But when I look back to earlier points when I was managing departments, I realize that my leadership skills suffered when I didn’t have access to a larger picture.
What Have You Learned About Leadership?
We think of great leaders as those who can have difficult conversations. They see business insights that others would miss and put them into practice in their projects.
When I think back about the perceptions I had about business and leadership earlier in my career, gaps of information in the larger business strategy were missing. There were situations that frustrated me because I didn’t understand the full picture. But more than that, it took longer for me to truly embrace a leadership role because I was missing pieces of understanding about why higher-level decisions were being made.
The ability to see business insights and have difficult conversations are important traits in leaders, but transformational leadership is something more, too. It’s the ability to align your core beliefs with the goals of the business AND your team.
Too often, the higher-level decision making isn’t made clear to team members.
I realized as I started taking up the mantle of leadership that helping your managers and staff members understand decisions can help them align better with goals.
As I grew my career, I realized that I could place more trust in the idea that even though I can’t see everything, good decisions in service of the overall objectives were being made. The larger the perspective, the deeper the understanding. But as a leader, you have to realize that your staff doesn’t have access to that full picture. You need to understand their possible frustration points with decisions and be as transparent as possible.
With transparency, you can create a much more positive company culture where every member of your team feels part of the process. You want to encourage creative contributions from your team and support them in their growth. This means developing leadership processes that encourage individual and team visions, as well as your overall company visions.
3 Leadership Lessons I Wish I Learned Before Becoming a CEO
There are many skills necessary to foster truly great leadership.
When you think of well-known business geniuses, like Walt Disney and Steve Jobs, you’ll notice something. A lot of the spark that made them so great wasn’t anything you would learn in a business class. Their spark of genius came from lessons they learned through a wide range of experiences.
Not all those experiences happened in the business world. To truly build a successful business, you need to excel in the care of people, and that starts with an effective leader.
Which brings me to the three leadership lessons I wish I learned earlier:
- Broad understanding needs to be shared with your team.
- Create a unique vision for each team.
- Create a clear vision that’s in alignment with the question “What would I love?”
Being a transformational leader is more than simple goal setting. It’s the ability to create a real vision for your team or company that aligns with your core belief and dreams. And then to take that vision and help the rest of your team see and embody it. To be a great leader, you’re impacting your people in a profound way. Not just to get the best performance out of them (though that will happen), but to help them succeed professionally and personally, as well.
1. Broad Understanding Needs to Be Shared With Your Team
One of the lessons I wish I had known before becoming a CEO was to trust more in the greater perspective. Trust more in the leadership, knowing it would have saved me a lot of frustration, heartache, and difficult moments in my early business career.
In my early career, a policy came down from the CEO that made absolutely no sense to me. The decision was going to hamper my department’s opportunity to be successful. As a new manager, I realized there were larger business decisions I wasn’t aware of. At the same time, the decision didn’t make any sense to me. I could see so much profit being lost.
I spent a good portion of my time as a young leader frustrated about decisions that I could not control.
Fast forward three years and I’d been promoted multiple times. I was a vice president sitting on the board and I was involved in a meeting that covered the very same decision for that fiscal year. Suddenly, I realized that the decision wasn’t just something that affected a few weeks for (my former) department. It was a decision that had an impact on multi-year and multi-million-dollar deals.
I realized that the decision to hamper my department wasn’t made lightly. There was an analysis that I was not aware of at the time.
You can’t always see the full perspective. As you grow, you’ll see more. More will come to light. You’ll understand different aspects of business, life, and various things that might not be obvious on the surface in a lower position.
I learned that I could rely on that. Even if I couldn’t understand decisions. Even if they didn’t make sense from my perspective, I could trust that the greater good was at work. But I came to that lesson after many years of frustration, heartache, and unnecessary worry.
As a CEO, I’ve realized that those things impact the people working in my organization. Today, I know how important it is to go to those who can’t see the full picture and do my best to make sure they feel supported. To explain the full picture when it’s appropriate and to offer a bigger picture perspective.
I realized that it was a miss on the part of the leaders in the company I was working in. They could have explained it to me. They could have alleviated a lot of worry and frustration. They didn’t even necessarily have to explain the specifics, just enough to acknowledge that the decisions were for a larger picture greater good.
That’s one of the things I took away from this experience and that I believe every great leader should embrace – transparency and communication.
2. Create a Unique Vision for Each Team
One of the lessons that I wish I had known early on is the power of creating a vision for a team separate from the vision of the overall organization. I always felt it was my job to understand the goals that were given to me. I always worried over the quotas and budgets that the company created, and I worked with my team to achieve those goals.
While it is important to help your team meet budgets and quotas, it’s not transformational leadership. I could have been a better transformational leader before I became a CEO if I started with creating a vision for my team separate from the vision for the organization.
I could have created clearer visions for my team, greater levels of challenge that were far beyond the quotas we achieved. To be clear, we did challenge ourselves. I challenged people to perform, and my team stretched to meet new goals. But it wasn’t coming from a place of transformational leadership.
With transformational leadership, you set a clear vision that the whole team strives for that’s beyond what the company’s expectation is. That lesson became very powerful to me as a CEO.
You don’t have to wait to become a transformational leader.
3. Create a Clear Vision in Alignment with the Question, “What Would I Love?”
How do you become a truly transformational leader? By beginning to challenge yourself with the question, “What would I love?”
Creating a vivid vision that’s in alignment with the answer is the key. A truly transformational leader always aligns their vision with their core values.
That clear vision does not need to be equal or identical to the expectations of the company, if it’s greater than the company’s level of expectation. If it’s not aligned with the company, if what you love and what the company expects are two different things, then you have an issue. But it’s also an issue you should know about.
You want to reflect on what you personally love. If your vision exceeds the minimum expectations of the company, you don’t have to simply live into the goals the company sets. Set your own goals. Create your own vision.
You can be a transformational leader at any point, in any moment that you choose. This is the lesson that I wish I had learned in a greater way before becoming a CEO.
What Makes Great Business Leaders?
The truly great business leaders inspire and motivate their teams. All of their team members gain knowledge, insight, support, and the ability to succeed at a much wider scale. This type of leadership means higher performance and morale from your team, because they’re supported in their own professional growth. It also means astronomical business success.
The three lessons we talked about here helped me unlock whole new levels of leadership in my life and career. They helped me become more than a good leader, more than even a great leader. They were some of the stepping stones I used to become a transformational leader.
Want to take a deeper dive into what separates transformational leaders from other types of leaders? Download my free eBook 22 Great Qualities of a Transformational Leader and unleash the power of the transformational leader within you.