I was once guilty of thinking I was a leader because I held a management title. I directed people, had control and managed day-to-day activities, and therefore, thought I knew what it meant to be an effective leader.
My leadership strengths were my systems, procedures and subject matter expertise. I took pride in always knowing the answer and being able to help others.
After working at the same company for 10 years and managing the same group for seven, I decided I was ready for a change.
While I was proud of myself for taking a professional and personal risk, I was also extremely worried I wouldn’t be as effective of a leader because I didn’t understand my new team’s systems, jargon, policies and procedures.
Not knowing everything (or anything for that matter) was uncomfortable. I was used to being the point person for my employees and the team dynamics had been reversed. I was now the one asking lots of questions, requesting advice and relying on others’ talents, knowledge and strengths (in hindsight this is something I hadn’t done enough of before).
Going to work at a new company changed my management approach. The unfamiliarity of my new environment made me more collaborative, strategic and reflective. I found myself involving others more and becoming a better listener.
Although I at first felt inadequate in my new role, I quickly realized I was transforming into a true leader. My probing and inquisitiveness helped my team to look at things differently; my lack of hands-on expertise empowered others to do things they never had the chance to do before and my vulnerability helped to foster trust.
Moving forward, when I am asked what steps a person should take to improve upon their leadership skills my response is, “Get out of your comfort zone.” As can be seen from my experience, there is so much to learn about yourself and others when you are in uncharted waters.
You don’t necessarily have to change jobs or roles. All you need to do is challenge yourself by putting yourself in new and yes, sometimes uncomfortable situations. If you have a fear of public speaking, consider joining your local Toastmasters International Club.
If you aren’t the best with numbers, volunteer to help your director with next month’s financial reports. If you are always the one making decisions, delegate more and put someone else in charge.
Breaking free from your usual activities will expose you to new people and experiences while building your confidence. Regularly stepping outside of your comfort zone will also better prepare you for experiencing and managing change.
When pushing your boundaries just remember to take baby steps, kick perfectionism to the curb, ask for help when needed and most importantly never lose sight of your goals.
Danielle Clark is a human resources manager with more than 10 years of HR and customer service experience in healthcare and retail organizations. Her work with Fortune 500 companies, in addition to a diverse professional and academic background, has trained Clark to be results-driven, people-focused and a thought-provoking leader. Her goal is to educate and inspire professionals to change their way of thinking. She is also an adjunct professor, active community volunteer, wife, mother and passionate lifelong learner.