How to Be a Good Leader

4 September 2018 Reading Time: 11 minutes

Strengths-based Leadership encourages us to look into our strengths to identify what works and doesn’t work for us as leaders. I think you should go beyond that.

Learning about leadership starts when you experience someone else’s leadership style.

You learn from every single boss you have ever had.

Both the good and the bad.

Same with the parenting styles you experience.

Look into your upbringing.

What can you learn from it?

I recently realized  that my leadership style strongly reflects the parenting style of my parents.

As a result, I’m no longer Enhancv’s CMO.

I’ve adopted those values and principles and that’s how I led of marketing team at Enhancv, a team of 5 people from 4 nationalities.

Do I have things to share? Yes.

Should you learn from me? It depends.

My 8 Principles

When I was a child, my mom & dad  — 

  • provided safety — they created a safe environment, free of worries and dangers; when a neighbourhood boy was bullying me, mom talked to him and honestly scared the shit out of him, so he never bothered me after that!
  • helped me grow — they provided a nurturing environment; they attended exhibitions and took my sister and I with them, ate moderately and healthy, went to the mountain every weekend and brought us with them, read books to my sister and I.
  • gave me hope —they confirmed that things will be okay; when I fell on the ground, they helped me get up and said “everything will be okay, your knee will heal quick”
  • showed me compassion — they understood and respected my feelings. When my parents heard that my boyfriend in primary school had broken up with me, they said they were sorry I felt that way.
  • were honest — they spoke openly about what we can afford or not, so they managed my expectations well and kept their word. I only got a Mickey Mouse magazine or a Happy Meal just a few times throughout my childhood, but that was fine.
  • respected me & expected respect in return —they never crossed a line and didn’t allow me to make a joke of them either, not even once.
  • taught me how to dream big — I was 5 years old and my mom was taking me to German lessons when she said “learn German and one day you can travel to Germany or Austria and ski in the Alps”; at the time I was skiing down a hill in the neighbourhood, so the Alps sounded absolutely outstanding (and they are, as I saw a few years ago!)
  • congratulated me on my successes — “you’re our little hero!” Mom always said that whatever challenge I overcame or accomplishment I had.

Each of those strongly shaped my understanding of what’s right and wrong at home, as well as in school or the workplace.

And here’s how I applied them as a CMO.

Please note, much like in parenting, sometimes we have the right intentions, but the result is different. The principles below show what I’ve aimed for. I have to admit I didn’t succeed with them 100% of the time.

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#1 Help them grow

As a leader, I aim to

  • encourage people when they are scared, I push their boundaries
  • support them in crisis or when they feel low
  • give as much feedback as I can to any piece of work. I expect high quality of anyone, regardless of their seniority, title, or years of work experience.
  • give both positive and constructive feedback that aims the same thing to encourage a growth mindset, not just to be “good”. When a colleague challenges me, I usually thank them for doing that as I’d like to encourage them to question my decisions or directions rather than be “good” by blindly following me and always be approving of what I say.
  • support them to develop their strengths, even when outside of their comfort zone

“Vessy has been challenging me every single day. That’s why I jokingly started calling her Chief Challenger. One time she challenged me to go to London on a work trip, on my own. It’s a city that always made me unusually anxious so at the time it felt completely outside of my comfort zone. Despite being scared I ended up going and once it was over, I realized I had overcome the fear. She successfully pushed my boundaries and I’m proud I went on that trip. That experience still gives me courage and makes my out-of-my-comfort-zone experiences more comfortable.”

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#2 Give them hope

As a leader, I aim to

  • explain that overnight success is not overnight, so when success doesn’t come right away, the team has hope and keeps trying
  • explain we all do things that are hard and do them for the first time and we eventually figure it out and if we don’t, we will figure something else out
  • bring hope to them, even when I’m struggling with it myself; knowing they rely on me, pushes me to find hope myself
  • get people enthusiastic about the future – our company vision, strategy, or even next month’s campaign

“Since I’m very self-critical I can easily go into an Impostor Syndrome state if I don’t see results quickly enough. It was especially hard to try out a bunch of tactics for advertising optimization and see our costs decrease only slightly. Vessy helped me focus on the amount of things we tried and learned, reminding me how far we’ve come, even if the numbers didn’t show it. Then I could move forward with restored motivation and came to several new solutions to try out.”

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Without hope, the worlds looks and feels meaningless and people become helpless. That’s valid just as much at work! 

#3 Show them compassion

As a leader, I aim to

  • Actively listen and be present
  • Acknowledge their feelings (If I don’t care that someone is struggling, that results in two things — they get discouraged and I’m an asshole)
  • Determine if I should give advice or instead I should give them space so they can figure things out and fix them on their own
  • Be there for them when they struggle outside of work, too.

“Vessy has never stopped being incredibly supportive of me and everyone on the team, particularly as I’ve evolved from being more of a writer into a broader SEO role. One ironic by-product has been that we came to a point where there was less of a need for a head of marketing. Everyone now takes full responsibility for their own domain and the whole operation works smoothly. You could say she’s a victim of her own success there.”

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I believe that lack of compassion results in emotional invalidation. It’s sneaky and powerful. It creates a distance between you and the other person and damages their confidence.

Three things if you want to work on Compassion:

#4 Be honest & earn their trust

As a leader, I aim to

  • act as a role model and I’m aware that everything I do can be replicated by anyone in my team, so I’d better do things as best as I can!
  • keep my promises (and keep private matters we have discussed private)  
  • Be authentic and candid, e.g. tell them when I disagree and when I’m having a hard time
  • Encourage honesty and establish trust between all team members to help them collaborate more smoothly.  

If I’m not honest with them, why would they be honest with me? Delegating, for example, would become impossible or pointless.

If they don’t respect me and trust me, why would they care which direction I attempt to lead them? That would make any strategy, campaign, or tactic chaotic and inapplicable.

“As an illustrator, I’ve never been too interested in business, marketing analytics or numbers in general. I actually, never thought they could have anything to do with my job. AT ALL. Vessy’s honest questions and challenges showed me how important it is, to back up my work with business goals if I want to make an impact. When I was working on developing Enhancv’s illustration identity, I managed to put in action all the lessons learned during our one-on-ones. Answering the questions, “why are we doing that” and “how it could impact Enhancv’s business goals”, helped me realise that drawing cool stuff is not enough, if they’re not the right cool stuff. And on top of that, the whole team was able to see how awesome illustrations are, when used the right way.”

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#5 Create a safe space for them

As a leader, I aim to

  • provide safety and security when people feel threatened; that doesn’t mean protecting them, but more so empowering them how to face the challenge and helping them identify numerous ways to do it  
  • teach them how to deal with ambiguity and embrace change; I show them the freedom and the wide range of opportunities that come in times of great flux.

#6 Expect the other side to follow the same principles

As a leader, I aim to

  • Encourage constructive, courageous, healthy behavior rather than focus on punishing the unwanted habits.
  • To address things, when an employee has hurt my feelings or shown me disrespect. The alternative is to leave things to stay unresolved and bottle up until it explodes.  

You don’t want a partner, friend, colleague, boss, parent, or sibling who jeopardizes the pillars of the relationship (respect, trust, safety, etc), do you?

For example, my girlfriend and I built a habit to check-in on the health of our relationship. We don’t do it in a structured way or at a specific period of time. We casually ask each other questions that allow us to get feedback from each other and understand if there’s something we should work on as a couple or as individuals. Then, we discuss ways we can tackle it and commit to them. Last time we did that, we put them down. One of those commitments was to go to spoken word poetry together and tonight we’re going to one.

#7 Teach them how to dream big

As a leader, I aim to

  • Show them how to see potential beyond what’s visible to them

That allows the team to spot the big opportunities and chase the big results.  

I know of few leaders that would take on a college student with little-to-no professional experience to write a resume on someone they admire, but Vessy’s decision to ask me to work on Rupaul’s Resume is what led to me taking on an internship at Enhancv and getting to know some extraordinary people. Not only has this gifted me valuable experience, but Enhancv have gone on to be featured in top-tier media such as Fast Company, Gay Times, and more because of this. These are achievements I never thought would be possible in five years –  let alone a few months! Vessy has been a creator of opportunity that has inspired me and challenged me at every step. With her guidance, I’ve been afforded many things that I never thought I would have – authenticity in the workplace, professional drive, the freedom to dream big.”

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#8 Congratulate them on their successes

As a leader, I aim to

  • Take the time to say “well done!”, “fantastic job”, “i’m pressed”, “so proud of you”
  • Show my gratitude – yes, they are paid to do their job, but I don’t take a job well done for granted; I genuinely appreciate this kind of people, the hard work and attitude they have put into it!

Sometimes I check in with myself if I do that and when I realize I haven’t done it for awhile, I reach out to the individual or the team.

One of the top 3 reasons why people change jobs, validated by research with our users and with our employees, is that they didn’t feel valued and appreciated.

Responding vs Initiating: 3 tools that help me follow the eight principles

Leadership is built on relationships. In any relationship there’s a line that once crossed, it’s hard to retrieve from.

While responding means we’re always catching up, it’s important to have different mechanisms, or tools, that allow you to initiate conversations rather than respond to the final situations when nothing can be repaired, discussed, or restored.

These are my ways of deal with things early on, often way before they have even started.

One-on-one meetings

We’ve been having 1on1 meetings for over 2 years now. I’ve had over 200+ with various team members. Over time their objective and format have evolved a lot according to the needs of the company, as well as adapted to the respective lead’s style. During my 1on1s, for example, I’d always ask — what would you like us to talk about today? Is there anything that’s bothering you? What would you do with X if you were leading the team?

Expectation documents

These are simple one-pager documents that have 3 sections: Performance (e.g. attract X new unpaid website visitors), Behavior (e.g. come prepared to meetings), Skills (e.g. advance SEO). They show the person what to focus on in the next 6-week period. As a marketing lead I used to find it super handy as it was helping me set my own expectations towards the employee, make sure they are communicated, as well as check if they are understood by the employee. On the other side, that was giving clarity and direction to the employee. So every 6 weeks we’d meet up and compare notes on how the previous period went and what’s needed in the next period.

Constant, immediate feedback

Building a team dynamics that encourages team members to give feedback to each other, so when I’m not there (on vacation or no longer their lead) they are independent from me and they can do things together, on their own.

Being a leader is beyond being a team lead

I aim to follow the same principles in any relationship that I have in my life. And in the case of Enhancv, that means I aim to follow them with any person in the company – a founder, an early employee, or a recent one.

Quite often being open about my vulnerabilities has been a foundation for the trust in any of those relationships; vulnerability and authenticity are also big themes for me in my writing on Medium.

“Vessy started to be very open about her vulnerabilities, and instead of taking away from her credibility, this actually added to it. When I’m facing a challenge related to how to approach a complex project or have a tough conversation with a person, I sometimes catch myself thinking: “Vessy had that anxiety. She overcame that. And so can I!”

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What you should take away from this how-to-be-a-leader article

Would any of the above make you a successful leader?

It depends on who you are.

While most of us read books about the leadership styles of successful generals or CEOs, it’s not about imitating someone else’s style. It’s about identifying what makes your style unique, cultivating those strengths, and recognizing handy others’ practices that are relevant for you and possibly worth trying.

If you recognized anything you think you should give a try, that’s fantastic.

But do look into yourself. Into your upbringing. Into what makes you you.

What’s next for me, now that I’m not the CMO any more?

My new role is Career Industry Expert & Talent Scout.

I will be focused on more strategic pieces such as exploring different business models for Enhancv, scouting for talent, and occasionally write articles for our blog.

I’m currently looking for

Do you know anyone who would be great for any of those roles? Give me a shout – vessy@enhancv.com

Vessy Tasheva

Career Industry Expert & Talent Scout at Enhancv. I help people succeed in their jobs & careers. In my free time, I do career coaching and write about it on Medium.com/@vessytash.

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