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How to embrace true leadership

The endless conversations, the constant catchups, the never-ending negotiations – do you find it hard to find time to do your job when there's so much to contend with?

Welcome to leadership.


No one is born a leader and it can be hard to let go of the ‘doing’ and recognise that those tasks that are ‘getting in the way’ are actually a hugely important part of what it means to lead.

Kim Scott has a great anecdote about this in Radical Candour:

“I’d gotten only a few steps into the office when a colleague suddenly ran up. He needed to talk right away. He had just learned that he might need a kidney transplant, and he was completely freaked out. After an hour and two cups of tea, he seemed calmer… I walked toward my desk, past an engineer whose child was in the ICU. Must check in… I left his desk drained, passing by our quality assurance manager, his child had better news… By the time I got to my desk I had no time or emotional reserves to think about pricing…

Later that day I called my CEO coach, Leslie Koch, to complain… “Am I just some sort of emotional babysitter…?” Leslie, a fiercely opinionated ex-Microsoft executive, could barely contain herself: “This is not babysitting… it’s called management, and it is your job.”

It can be hard to quantify what a leader does, but emotional labour is, without doubt, a key part of the role. But it’s only part of the picture. If you’re feeling torn between the doing and the leading, Scott suggests focusing your role around these three areas of responsibility:


Lots of people dread ‘feedback’. Positive and it can feel patronising, negative and it can cause a defensive and even angry response. But guidance is a key part of leadership. And worrying about how our guidance will be received, or whether it will fix the problem, shouldn’t stop us soliciting it and encouraging others to do the same.

Team building

Pulling together the right people for the job is only half the challenge. Developing them into a cohesive team and keeping them motivated is where your leadership skills really come in. Some might constantly be looking for the next step, some might need lots of direction, some might view every task with cynicism. Understanding the drivers of individuals in your team and meeting those needs is vital.


Leaders are judged on results. But when the changes we make – additions to the team, changes to strategy – don’t seem to cut it, frustration can set in. But leadership is more than good planning, and getting results usually takes more than shuffling chess pieces.


Why relationships matter

Relationships are at the heart of giving good guidance, building great teams and getting results.

As Scott writes in Radical Candour:

“Very few people focus first on the central difficulty of management: establishing a trusting relationship with each person who reports directly to you… Many things get in the way though: power dynamics first and foremost, but also fear of conflict, worry about the boundaries of what’s appropriate or ‘professional’, fear of losing credibility and time pressure. Nevertheless these relationships are core to your job.”

Establishing these connections with your team means knowing their motivations and how they operate best. It enables you to push them when the time is right and helps to create an environment where everyone feels trusted and free to innovate.

So if your morning has been ‘derailed’ by helping a member of your team through a crisis, if your board report is late because you’re guiding someone through a tricky negotiation, don’t see that as a failure of your leadership. See it as prioritising the things that really matter.

There are lots of great leadership lessons in Radical Candour. If you want to lead with authenticity and really get the most from your team it’s a great place to start.