What New Leaders Don't Realize (Part I)

Have you ever heard the expression, "You don't know what you don't know"? This typically comes up at a time like we're in, when America is prepping to vote again for a president, come November. With about 90 days until the election, a lot of pundits are wondering if the candidates know how steep the learning curve is for being El Jefe of the United States.

Lower level leaders face challenges too, especially when they first take over.

The problem though isn't the list of challenges. It's the fact that most people are horrible when it comes to self awareness. It's a fact that Americans are not particularly skilled in the art of knowing what they don't know. Most kids think they are great in math but the facts don't lie- American kids inflate their own ability in the classroom.

Likewise when it comes to young leaders. Ask a group of teens if they see themselves as leaders and most will tell you a big, whopping, "hell yeah!" Need an event planned? That same group will probably not get the job done as but a few leaders will rise to the occasion. This is how it is with leaders or wanna-be leaders: their self awareness is fairly weak.

So this is Part I in What New Leaders Don't Realize. They don't know what they don't know. In subsequent posts we'll explore other areas of new leaders and the challenges they face.

In the meantime, what can new leaders do to overcome this clear hurdle? Here are three suggestions:

1. Surround yourself with older, wiser professionals. There is no substitute for life experience and you'll want to surround yourself with a nice balance of young and energetic folks who are hungry to "take the hill" and older and wiser folks who can keep the mission on track. You need both kinds of people. Can some young people be wise? Sure. Can some older people be energetic? Of course. The point is that you need a balance of people or the organization skews and gets out of balance.

2. Give your Wisdom People permission to challenge you. I have a few folks in our organization that I call my Wisdom People. They speak wisdom into my life and can put me in my place when needed. Here's the key- you need to give them permission to challenge you and here's how you do it. Say to one of them, "Joe, I want to give you the green light to verbally challenge me in the event that you see me going off track. Can you do that for me?" Trust me, this works.

3. Get yourself a good spiritual director. I have a priest that I see every six or eight weeks. He kicks my butt in a counselor sort of way, asking me tough questions and also affirming the good things that God is doing in my life. A good director will do that and new leaders in particular need one. (I would add an ASAP to this one.) I can't imagine being a leader without having a strong spiritual director to challenge and affirm behind the scenes.

Stay tuned for Part II of our series.

In the meantime, what advice do you have for new leaders?

Photo courtesy of MM