Sh*t I'm In Charge

When I spoke to Nafisa Bakkar on the OverTime podcast she reflected on that moment she realised she needed to ‘level-up’ her leadership. In her case, she and her co-founder (her sister) had just raised their first round of funding, and wanted to ensure she used other people’s money in the right way. After facing a lot of key decisions as a new team working within a new company, it was apparent to her that she had to start taking the role of CEO as everyone was looking to her to lead.

This isn’t a transitional moment just reserved for founders, as we work our way up the metaphorical ladder we can get lost in the motions and forget to take our own leadership seriously. Very often we are focused on looking upwards at our own managers and stakeholders, expecting changes and decisions to come from them, without realising that we now hold the power to make some change.

What I respect about Nafisa’s journey is that when she had that moment of clarity she first looked inwards. She didn’t look for blame, or reached for a book, she looked at herself to figure out what kind of leader did she want to be.

When you find yourself having that moment of realization that everyone is starting to look to you for guidance, here’s where you can start:

  1. Take responsibility

If your team is looking to you for answers don’t respond by blaming the ‘team upstairs’. Yes, they may be awful at communicating downwards, aren’t aligned, make your life hell, but it doesn’t mean it should make you look bad to your team. We can often deflate and disempower ourselves by the language and responses we chose to use.

Change your language by taking responsibility for how your team feels and do what you can to move things forward. This can be as simple as being an empathetic ear to a disgruntled team member and can be as challenging as being the first to highlight a weakness to a manager. Whatever the task, it has to be done. If not you, then who?

2. Align Your Team

In Nafisa’s case her team aligned well with a set of principles she and her co-founder defined which has helped them shape some of the key decisions and behaviours within their growing business.

These team values and purpose can make or break a great team and it is not reserved for the highest level of leaders. Team managers have complete autonomy to create their own set of team values, that live outside of the organization’s core values. These values align the team on what behaviours and attitudes are needed to get the job done. Here’s how.

3. Reflect

Your learning curve will be steep and when it comes to managing there are no knows. Resources, mentorship, courses, all help, but the only way to truly be a leader is to know yourself. There are many paths to self-awareness but I can’t think of one that doesn’t involve self-reflection. When you try a new tool, have a difficult conversation, or do something out of your comfort zone, it’s important to schedule quiet time in to take stock of what you learned in the process.

Reflecting can take many forms and you should reflect on what would work best for you. Think about how much time you can commit and which part of the day is most often uninterrupted that will allow you to have some headspace to think. Tim Ferris introduced a daily journalling session where he reflects on what he wants to achieve in the morning and finishes the day by reflecting what went well. Team reflection session can take shape in a retrospective, a very powerful exercise. However you chose to implement reflection, it’s a key step to leading others.

If you catch yourself having that ‘Sh*t I’m in charge moment’ don’t let it take over you or stop you from doing a great job. Remember, you are in your role because people see your potential and believe in your ability. Take the time to see what they see and leverage it. Go forth by grabbing hold of the reigns and leading your team into greatness.

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Gillian 👩‍💻

Gillian Davis