Tips on leadership from an ‘accidental leader’

There is so much to be said for being completely authentic. Being honest about your successes and your failures (and the feelings associated with both those things) is so incredibly important for building connections. It is perhaps the single most wonderful thing as a coach and non-exec when I get to hear real, honest emotion from founders and leaders.

This article from creative agency Streamtime’s CEO Andy Wright is both personal and insightful, a frank story about climbing the ladder to accidental leadership. His honesty around not being a natural born leader, and his cognisance about being promoted for what he had done – not what he could or should do in being made a leader – is both refreshing and startling in its honesty.

You can read the full article, here on Agency Collective, but I’ve also added Andy’s learnings about becoming a leader below:

From look at me, to look at them.

If you’ve been focusing on trying to get people to see what you’ve done and achieved in order to reach the next rung on the ladder, you now need to do the exact opposite. It’s not about you. It’s about helping your team to be the best they can be, giving them the trust, support and safety they need to succeed – and the credit and recognition they deserve along the way.

Sink or swim is not an effective (or healthy) way to manage a team.

I was once taught that to have a high-performing team we needed the best of the best. We’d know in a few months if someone could or couldn’t survive. It was called sink or swim. If someone didn’t make it, that’s ok, they’re just not right for us. Not a thought was given to what this did to the people who sank. Understanding that everyone is unique, that everyone works in different ways and handles pressure differently is a skill that very quickly needs to be developed as a leader. If someone appears to be failing, think, “maybe it’s not them that’s the problem.”

Be yourself. Not who you think you should be.

I tried to pick up things from the leaders I worked for. But after 10 years I was a mix of lots of other people without really understanding the leader I wanted to be. Too often, I’d make decisions based on, “what would [my old boss] do?”. Then I came across this advice.

“When you don’t know what to do in a situation, ask yourself, ‘What would the person I want to be do in this situation?’ Then do that.”

Understanding yourself and who you want to be is one of the most important things you need to develop as a leader. Faking it till you make it, isn’t necessarily good advice. It’s just encouragement to keep you going. It doesn’t take into account what effect your faking might have on others.

What you assume in other people, is what you’ll get out of them.

This isn’t my advice. It’s author Rutger Bregman’s (Humankind and Utopia for Realists). It’s backed up by research from many different situations, and that in fact uncovers the flaws in often famous research which we have been told and retold.

Ultimately, if you don’t think someone’s “up to it” they won’t be. Not because they’re not capable but more often than not because you’ve written them off and haven’t taken the time to understand how to get the best out of them. Assume that they have the potential to do great things and you’ll develop them into an amazing team member and help them to do the same for others.

Develop your empathy muscle.

In a study with close to 2,000 participants in the creative, media and marketing industry, (as part of my role as Creator of Never Not Creative and Co-Chair of Mentally-Healthy) we asked people what could help to improve their mental wellbeing at work.

The answer they gave wasn’t mindfulness programs, yoga sessions, mental health training, although they won’t do any harm.

The answer they gave was more empathetic, educated leaders. Leaders who could understand them, themselves and be non-judgemental in their leadership of them. They also asked for more clarity around their objectives and the appropriate resources to do their job well.

Essentially, what they were asking for was good leadership – and an end to the accidental leader.

The final word.

Isn’t leading a company all about making the big bucks?

I was once told that “as long as you’re making profit, the rest will look after itself.” Sure, you can’t run a business that isn’t making a profit.

Running a business to the numbers is only half the job. In fact, without the other half, you will fail. It’s easy to cut cost, say yes to unrealistic deadlines and low budgets. It is much harder to support your team, give them what they need, stand up for them.

But it’s the only way you’ll make a healthy profit.

A great read, and a lesson on both great leadership and authenticity.



Search the whole etc Playbook...

We have 100's of articles to help you with leadership, growth, talent and running a better business.

Agency Founders Surgery - free 1 to 1.

If you have something on your mind, a challenge you’re wrestling with or just want an alternative point of view, I’d be very happy to lend an ear and maybe help you start to unpick the issues.