Twelve months ago I left behind the relative comfort of being part of a business leadership team and the monthly salary that came with it for a new work adventure.
In January 2023 I took the leap into independent work, seeking greater variety and flexibility in my work. Since then I've learnt a lot and gradually found the right blend of work and clients to meet those goals.
When I left my last role, I wrote some pretty raw reflections on the experience I'd gained in recent years. I wanted to capture for myself what I felt was important then and what I needed to take with me into my future work.
Last week I pulled out those notes and looked at them with the benefit of greater hindsight. It's interesting how the passage of time changes perspective.
Context is important too. Those thoughts came from being in the leadership team of a services business that scaled from 300 to 700 people in two years, primarily through acquisition and integration.
Some feel much more enduring now, while others that felt important then are much less so now.
I've pulled together those reflections into six themes for what I learnt about leadership back then:
Leadership is a team sport
No-one has all the answers to the complex problems leaders face so don't pretend you do. A good leader knows how to bring a team around a problem and help them work towards a solution - and a solution that's better than one that any individual leader could have come up with alone.
Things take time to change. Give leaders the time, space and consistency of priority to be able to lead. Entrepreneurialism changes with scale. Rapid pivots in bigger companies can be value destroying, not enhancing.
Leaning in or standing back
The urge for leaders, especially founders, to lean in and fix/solve is strong. Resist it actively. Lean in sparingly and only where delay could likely lead to unacceptable consequences.
Sensing is underrated
Good leaders develop a radar that's able to pick up signals, weak and strong - and understand them in context. Sometimes misinterpreted signals are worse than unheard signals. This skill changes with scale and leadership means adjusting how you make sense of things as a business scales.
Prioritising and deciding
Being willing to take decisions about one thing being more important than another matters. And then so does sticking to those decisions. Inherent in taking those decisions is the fact that it's ok to decide to not do things too. That's a good thing as long as you explain why.
Like the current ratings on electrical wires, every business has a finite capacity for throughput. If you exceed this capacity, wires heat up and cause fires. The same applies for businesses. You can't do everything. Understanding what the organisation has the capacity to do and the size of the initiatives and changes you're trying to put through it is important.