10 Secrets Most Leaders Won’t Tell You
The author of this piece has requested anonymity.
Leadership is a journey and one that is likely different than you ever thought it would be before you stepped into a leading role.
When I was not in a leadership position, I always thought that top leaders had it all figured out. They had been through some sort of business training, leadership training, or other education that allowed them to “know” what they were doing. Someday through more education and experience I would one day also possess the skills to lead, all the uncertainty would dissipate, and I would be able to lead successfully. But as you likely have learned, it doesn’t really work that way. In fact, I think that leaders struggle more than they let on or care to admit. Personally, at one point or another, I have struggled in each of the following areas listed in this article. At the time that I was experiencing them, I did not let on that was the way that I felt or how I currently am feeling, so I kept it a secret.
Looking back, I realize that I kept far too much to myself and in doing so it left me feeling alone and isolated. That isolation was difficult and caused way too much stress that was not necessary. By shedding some light on these areas, I hope that it can provide some comfort to let you know that you are not alone and that there are some things that you can do to help break that cycle of “keeping secrets.” Listed below are 10 secrets that most leaders will not share with you, but they have likely all experienced.
1. I’M LESS SECURE IN MY LEADERSHIP THAN I APPEAR
For most leaders being secure in their leadership is not something that they have immediately, but it is rather developed over time. Insecurity, however, causes you to resist talking with others about your insecurity and leads to other problems like being disliked. You come across to your staff as a dictator, you take the perceived power of leadership and wield it like a sword that cuts ties rather than build trust with your staff. If you are constantly comparing yourself to others, you don’t take joy in other people’s successes, or your sense of self-worth is driven by your latest results then these are signs that you are insecure. I recommend facing this insecurity through acknowledgement and then taking action to deal with it. Start with reaching out to a counselor or close friend to discuss your concerns and insecurities. You can also be openly generous with praising your team. Often people who are insecure in their own performance are jealous of others success and performance and one of the best ways to combat this insecurity is to recognize and compliment others. Another way to improve your insecurities is to understand and embrace areas where you may not be as strong as others and hire accordingly. Surround yourself with people who will compliment your skills and stop focusing on the areas where you are not as skilled. You can use this as an opportunity to learn, and it will allow you to celebrate what your staff is better at than you.
2. I WORRY THAT I’M FAILING IN MY LEADERSHIP
Leadership is complicated, and it involves the leader going through different phases. This can be known as the “us versus them” mentality. As a member of the team, you fit in with the other “players” or members of the team and are part of the group. You were able to share in your wins and in your challenges. Now you are sitting in a separate office, possibly with a title change, and are seen as the liaison between upper-level management or you are upper-level management. Now there feels like a gap between yourself and your staff that wasn’t there before which builds upon the previously mentioned insecurity. You now also must make tough decisions that can have lasting consequences. The negative voices in your head can get overwhelmingly loud and can make you doubt your decisions. This doubt can prevent you from making decisions in a timely manner or making the right decision because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.
3. IT’S HARD AT HOME
Our outward projection of our lives may not be all true. It is not always sunshine and rainbows. The struggles that you may be experiencing from home, whether you have a child who is struggling in school, teen pregnancy or addiction, or raising your grandchildren when your own kids are grown can be all-consuming. Then getting away to the office is your 8-10-hour reprieve where you can keep it all together. Once you return home, your family and spouse may get too much of the unfiltered stress from the collision of the two worlds while your work family does not have any clue that you are struggling with this situation outside of work. This could bring to life an entirely new layer of issues with stress bleeding into each individual part of your life without ever being truly addressed and dealt with.
4. CRITICISM HURTS
No matter how many times we are reviewed on our performance or given feedback, it is difficult not to take things personally. As a leader, sometimes we are not in a position to receive a review of our performance because we do not have an avenue for that feedback. The feedback that we do receive can come from a loyal friend within the company or through hearing something through the rumor mill. We have all had the visceral response to negative feedback about our performance or our leadership and we can react in many non-productive ways. One reaction is silence. The second option can be to act defensively. However, a more productive way to handle criticism can be to actively acknowledge what they are saying and ask appropriate questions for feedback and growth opportunity.
5. WE ARE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP
When you are in a leadership role it can be difficult to ask for help or ask for things that you need because you believe that you should be able to handle it. You think that you were given the responsibility and therefore you should shoulder the load on your own without requiring anyone to have your back or be a second set of hands or eyes on a project. While taking some time on your own to reflect on a problem, prior to deciding, is a good thing, isolating yourself to make all of the decisions and do all of the work on your own can be detrimental to progress. It is important to understand that you are not alone, and you should allow yourself to ask for help when you need it.
6. I HAVE A SECRET SIDE HUSTLE
Sometimes this is nothing more than a passion that is not related to your current job, while other times it is purely a way for you to tap into your specific expertise and make some extra cash. Starting a blog, writing an e-book, or teaching a continuing education course are a few examples of some ways in which I have made additional income and passive income that has exceeded my salary.
7. I’VE THOUGHT ABOUT LEAVING/CLOSING AND GOING SOLO
While there are many positive things about being a leader and many rewards that come from leading a group of people toward a common goal, there can be some difficult things that are not always visible initially when taking the leadership role. Several examples have already been listed throughout this article such as, being lonely, feeling isolated, and taking on additional stress knowing that your decisions will directly affect others. Managing people can be hard. No one way works for all employees, who each have different personalities and motivations. It can be difficult and time-consuming to determine what these are. You are the one that needs to handle schedules when your therapists or adjunct staff need to call off for the day. Knowing that you may have some lost revenue and having to calm unhappy clients due to cancellations or changing their appointment times can add to your stress and cause you to have a less-than-ideal day. Some days you just think it would be easier to handle your own issues and not have to manage anyone else but yourself. Maybe just being a solo practitioner or selling the practice and passing on the headaches becomes more and more appealing as a result. The knowledge that I have a finite number of people that I can help as a solo practitioner helps to drive my vision of having a larger staff and providing them with the knowledge and skills that they need to be able to serve more people is the reason that I stay in the larger practice.
8. I FEEL LIKE I DON’T REALLY KNOW WHAT I AM DOING
Even if you have been doing something for a long enough period of time, sometimes you are faced with situations that you may have not encountered before and as a result, you do not know what to do — insert anything related to the pandemic here. You have surrounded yourself with bright and competent people, but they also do not know what to do. This is where the real challenge of leadership begins and can allow you to shine. Just like all of what we learn as physical therapists, being flexible is important. Allowing yourself some leeway to make a decision and work through it with some fluid changes as you gain knowledge and understanding of the situation is important. This is not as easy as fake it ‘til you make it, but it requires more constant research, application, and feedback from staff and clients on the effectiveness of the plan and then pivoting toward another direction of forging ahead with the current plan.
9. PEOPLE SEEM TO BELIEVE IN ME MORE THAT I BELIEVE IN MYSELF SOME DAYS
Occasionally, as you are leading through some tough times, difficult decisions or just making sure that you keep your head above water you don’t know whether you are doing a good job or not. You can begin to give up believing in yourself when some things don’t go according to plan, but if you look around and see that other people are believing in you it can help to bolster your resolve and begin to give you more confidence in your leadership skills. Taking that belief that others have in you can give you a sense of relief and allow you to continue to calmly assess situations and make the best decisions for your group.
10. I THOUGHT WE WOULD HAVE MADE MORE PROGRESS/BEEN MORE SUCCESSFUL BY NOW
You don’t want to say it out loud to anyone, but you think that you should have had more success by now. You look at some of the overnight successes and wonder why that couldn’t be you. Once you start to look more closely at the “overnight successes,” you realize that they may have been 5-20 years in the making, and it is really not that much different than the trajectory that you are on. Sometimes when assessing success, you need to take a step back and look at your business’ trajectory up to this point then think to yourself “have we hit our short-term goals that we set for ourselves.” Using short-term benchmarks helps you maintain a level head about your progression and provides the rewarding feeling of reaching a goal while you continue to grow. This will serve you well as a leader because your vision is bigger than the current reality. Keeping this vision and clearly communicating it to your team will spur everyone to do more.
Keeping secrets as a leader is an easy trap to fall into with so many leaders being depicted as a strong loner who can shoulder all of the burden while orchestrating their team to be successful through his or her direction. This approach can foster a culture of secrecy rather than trust. If you can create a communication culture based on trust you will be creating an atmosphere that is essential for success.