We all know leadership is a big deal, right? But guess what? 

There's a whole world of leadership that goes way beyond those textbooks and classroom discussions.  They're just the tip of the iceberg. It's not just about bosses and rules – it's about something deeper, and in my latest conversation with Shelley Johnson we go DEEP on this.

Shelley shares with us her own journey from corporate Human Resources to choosing to lead her own modern HR consultancy.  Together we dispel some myths, understand the importance of self-awareness, embracing the human side of leadership and actively choosing to lead. This is a conversation about passion, challenges, and those lightbulb moments that made Shelley want to empower other people into becoming leaders.  Let’s get into it!

Embracing Change: The Journey from HR to Consultancy

The shift from a corporate Human Resources (HR) role to launching a modern consultancy business was driven by an instinctive drive for personal growth born from personal values. After a decade in HR, Shelley was looking to elevate her professional growth and performance.  Despite a long-standing wish to start a business, fear and risk aversion initially held her back. However, the desire for growth and embracing new experiences eventually outweighed these concerns, fuelling the ability to take this new step into entrepreneurship and establish Boldside Consultancy. 

Shelley’s decision to evolve her career, has proven to be the right choice, and was grounded in a strong understanding of her personal values. Values are at the heart of how Shelley operates,  and core to the work that Boldside does.  It is really important to stay aligned with your values,  also recognising that periodically revisiting them is crucial for growth and performance. When we lose touch with our values, a sense of unease or misalignment can arise. This serves as a sign that it's time to reconnect with our values. Engaging in this introspective process helps us identify what isn't working and allows our values to act as a compass, directing us toward our next meaningful step.

The myth of innate leadership: 

People often hold many falsities about what it takes to be a leader. One misperception is holding onto the idea that leaders are born. This can lead to the emergence of poor leaders.  Being a good leader is not just something you're born with. Leadership is something you learn, nurture and get better at, just like any other skill. For instance, some people might be naturally creative, but it doesn't mean they can't further improve - keep developing their creativity. It's the same with leadership. Some people might be naturally better at inspiring others, and the ability to captivate people, but these skills can also be learnt.

Self-Awareness: The cornerstone of effective leadership

Being a great leader can be really tough at times, but this is even harder when you don't know yourself well. Having strong self-awareness is one of the most important parts of leadership. It means knowing your strengths and weaknesses and being open to hearing what you might not see. Without this self-awareness, effective leadership becomes really difficult. We can teach skills like giving feedback, making decisions and solving problems, but those lessons become redundant if you don't start with honestly knowing who you are.

Everyone has blind spots – things they can't see about themselves. The people who think they don't have any blind spots are blind to that in and of itself. Before you can improve and grow you need to accept that you have things to work on. This is something empowering and not something to fear or avoid.

Embracing the human side of leadership

In university, things like self-awareness, decision-making, creativity, or having open conversations weren’t regularly presented and discussed. The HUMAN side of being a manager or leader wasn't really taught. So, when people graduated and entered the workforce, they were unprepared for the responsibilities of supporting others and achieving goals together. As humans. 

We often see really skilled individuals who excel at specific technical tasks, that are then promoted to lead a team, and consequently they struggle. They might even dislike it completely. Sadly, these talented individuals then end up being average performing leaders. If we want great leaders, they need to be supported to understand how people behave. You can have the best strategy, but if you can't get people to work together towards a goal, it won't succeed.

Shelley believes that we need to learn about motivation theory, organisational psychology, and human behavior if we want to build effective leaders. These should be part of the courses taught in tertiary education. It's not just about technical skills; it's about understanding and working with people too.  Getting to what makes them tick.

The Authentic Leader: navigating emotions for growth

Leaders often expect employees to bring positive emotions like energy, joy, and happiness to work, while discouraging the expression of what may be termed negative emotions. However, it's unrealistic to filter emotions in such a way. The key lies in helping employees manage their emotional responses and not always act on them. It's about acknowledging emotions without letting them rule us.

As leaders, we must foster an environment where people can show up as their authentic selves. This means embracing both the positive and challenging emotions. It involves having open conversations about the messy aspects of human emotions, which are crucial for growth. Younger generations like millennials and Gen Z are more willing to bring their whole selves to work, seeking to be understood and valued. This challenges older leadership practices that used to separate work and personal life. To truly support this new mindset, leaders must learn to adapt their approach, understanding that the messiness of emotions is where genuine growth and connection occur.

Leadership: A conscious choice

It is absolutely correct that not everyone is meant to be a leader. It's a conscious choice that individuals should make. Being a leader isn't a role that should be forced upon anyone or just a step on a career ladder. It's about actively deciding to take on the responsibility of guiding and influencing others, with or without a formal title.

In a sense, it's like a class you enroll in, where you willingly opt for leadership. It's not simply an addition to your existing job description. When you become a leader, your main focus shifts to leading your team and empowering them towards success.

Patrick Lencioni's perspective aligns well with this notion. He highlights that effective leaders are motivated by the right reasons to lead. To truly embrace a leadership role, you need to see it as a central part of your job, you make an active decision to be a leader, it is not simply just an extra set of tasks.

Leadership isn't about merely adding one-on-ones and team meetings to your to-do list. It's about recognising the impact you can have on your team and being motivated to guide them towards growth and performance.

Exploring your Leadership potential

If you're considering becoming a leader or wondering if it's the right path for you, focus on what energises you. Think about what activities bring you a sense of excitement and motivation. For instance, if being part of a team and collaborating with others fills you dread and anxiety, leadership might not be a good fit. On the other hand, if coaching others to overcome challenges or guiding diverse perspectives in discussions appeals to you, these could be signs that leadership aligns with your strengths. 

To decide, reflect on what tasks energise you versus what drains your energy. This self-awareness will guide you towards determining what the right next step for you might be.

Ready for you or your team to learn the practical tools and strategies needed to lead yourself in your career? 

Reach out and let’s embark on a journey of leadership transformation together. Let’s chat.