Transitioning into a leadership role is a big step. I recently left a large institution to assume the executive director position of a small nonprofit organization where I would be the only full-time employee. The first year was filled with lots of learning curves, self-discovery and excitement. It was like taking a crash course in management, event planning, finance and community relations all at once.
Through it all, I learned some key leadership lessons to help others become the leaders they want to be:
1. Build a support team.
It’s critical to have a few people you can turn to for guidance. These individuals should be outside of your organization and they should have a wide variety of experiences. More important, though, they should be trustworthy, caring individuals who can offer a morale boost when needed. They also need be able to tell you when you are wrong.
2. Find balance.
It’s easy to become consumed by your new role, and your first response to the challenge is likely to go all in, 24/7. But don’t forget to find a balance. Allow yourself some distance between your leadership role and your personal life. Carve out time in your schedule to be away from social media and work, to just enjoy your personal time.
For me, this means not having my work email on my phone and setting boundaries on responses regarding work during off hours. I don’t want to spend my personal time distracted by work; it wouldn’t be fair to me or my family. But it’s a challenge to resist the urge and pressure of always being available. Find a balance that works for you and hold yourself to it.
3. Say no.
For the first year, there were a lot of times when I felt like the kid who didn’t belong in the room. This often meant I wouldn’t speak up when I wanted to and said yes to every request. Be selective in dedicating your time outside of work. People will respect you for voicing your ideas and for being protective of your time. There will be plenty of time in your career to be involved in different organizations and committees—give yourself room to adjust to your new role without being overwhelmed by others’ demands.
Being involved in a young professionals group through my local chamber of commerce and weVENTURE, an organization focused on women in business, has provided me with professional development opportunities. It provided opportunities to meet like-minded peers and mentors. The individuals I met through these organizations have become friends I can turn to with frustrations, celebrations and questions.
4. Don’t rush change.
There is so much to learn in your first year in a leadership position, including the things that were being done a certain way, right or wrong, before you arrived. Don’t be afraid to follow the status quo until you understand the bigger picture and potential impact of the changes you’re considering.
Give yourself time to digest everything you are experiencing. This will allow you to make smarter, more holistic changes, and ultimately shape the position and processes that best fit both your needs and the needs of the organization.
5. Collaborate to conquer.
Building alliances and support networks is vital to making significant, positive change. Build partnerships, don’t reinvent the wheel, give credit where it’s due, and always remember it is much better to approach a task with a team than by yourself.
While working with government municipalities, I found the benefits of collaboration by simply reaching out and asking. Certain organizations might not move as fast as you would like, but if you work within the set policies, you will find success more often than not, and you might just be able to make some improvements to the system along the way.
Developing your leadership style takes time and a lot of practice. Reflect on your actions and be willing to admit when you made a mistake. Say sorry even when you don’t think you need to. Allow your team to shine. And remember to take care of yourself.
Jarin Eisenberg is executive director of Melbourne Main Street in Melbourne, Fla., and an instructor at Florida Institute of Technology, where she previously was coordinator of online degree programs at the Bisk College of Business.