Oh no! I’m a leader – How to step up when you weren’t expecting to lead

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by on June 16, 2010

There’s been a lot of writing done about leadership styles; whether or not leadership is a matter of nature or nurture, highly effective habits of leaders, etc.  There are examples of leaders who have worked from entry level to corner office, and those who were groomed for leadership as a family inheritance. 

What we don’t usually hear about is the accidental leader.

As an entrepreneur, you expect to lead yourself and be the boss of you. Perhaps you recently started a direct-selling company at home or opened your own art studio. Whatever you set out to do, it is likely the freedom of being your own boss was on your mind. There’s a difference in being your own boss and being the boss of others.

Case in point: In January, my sister and I started a direct-selling business to have a little fun together and get the great product we are selling for free.  Making money on the side wasn’t our top priority but, one month after joining the company, we had a team of 10 business partners who had signed under us.  In two months, it was 18 and now, five months after joining the company, we have 27 business partners.  What was a fun, small venture has grown into a full-time enterprise.

We’ve learned that a growing team comes with a lot of responsibility.  New team members are eager to know how to make this business work for them.  We get the opportunity to inspire them and cheer them on. But, we’re also in charge of informing them when they are about to be terminated, when we hear a complaint, or when they do something that doesn’t align with the company’s standards.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are in a leadership role when you really weren’t expecting it, here are some tips on how to be an effective leader:

  1. Be honest: The best thing you can do is be honest with those you’re leading and tell them you are in this journey together.  In our welcome email to our new team members, we tell them: “We are learning together and excited to be on this journey with you. We don’t have all the answers, but if there is something we don’ t know, we will do our best to get you the best answer we can”.
  2. Be a team player: It is not all about you.  In direct selling, it is easy to focus only on your bottom line. It’s important to remember that your business partners also want to be successful. Team members want to know their contributions are valued and want to be rewarded for their hard work.
  3. Give more than you take:.  When you give more than you take, you will always have.  As a leader, give more to your team.  Give your time, your wisdom and your genuine self.  People know when you are just playing the role as leader because you have to. Be genuine and be authentic.
  4. Put into your business what you want out of it:.  The April 2010 issue of Essence magazine featured an article on running a successful direct selling business.  One key piece of advice that continues to resonate with me is that you can only expect to get out of your business as much as you put into it.  The same is true with your team – you can only expect your team to perform as much as you are willing to perform for them.
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