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How to Succeed as a Leader, part 2

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

Part 2 – The Legend of Surfer Boy

In Part 1, I discussed how I found success as a campaign manager with ZERO prior political experience.

In this entry, we move on to my Chief of Staff role. Once again, in the eyes of "experts", I’m not qualified for the role. In this case, people even lobbied against me being offered the job. Others counseled me to ask for a different role.

So, once again, I’m doubted for a variety of reasons. Except now the doubt is even coming from people who were just on my team!

how to succeed as a leader

You will run into this if you are ambitious or a high-performer. People will want to tamp down that enthusiasm and hold you back. In my particular case, it manifested as being told to “wait my turn” or “pay my dues” – nonsense.

I earned the opportunity to take the Chief of Staff role, and I was taking it.

That is one lesson for this entry. This is YOUR life, you get to choose how you want to live it. But then YOU are responsible to deliver whatever your role, your choice, requires.

So, I took the role and once again I am the gossip of the political circles, with most people taking the side that I’m totally wrong for the role. And yet, as the story would unfold, I would wind up enjoying quite a bit of success during my time as Chief of Staff.

Once again, a tremendous team came together – with the upfront knowledge of meeting me in interviews and knowing that I was the incoming Chief of Staff. I leaned on the team, even more than on the campaign trail. This was partly due to the fact I was studying for the Bar Exam while working 35 hours per week. (Remember the lesson from part 1 - You can do this!!).

the importance of a great team

So, how was I successful in this role despite the doubt, the lack of experience, and the fact I had to spend the first part of the year studying and working simultaneously?

Lesson 1) Assemble a really strong team.

We built out our organizational chart and got to know the existing staff early to begin building a rapport.

Everyone knew their role on day one. After that it was simply about those roles coming together to deliver on our objectives. It was my job to assure that our major initiatives kept moving on schedule.

Lesson 2) Getting it right over getting credit for being right.

A big part of my job was communication. Asking teams if they had the resources they needed. Inquiring about obstacles they might be facing and working to devise solutions with them.

I had the benefit of not being an accountant or auditor, so there was no temptation to step into those roles.

the importance of team culture

Lesson 3) Rapport and culture matter. Don't lose sight of them.

I was offered the role of Chief of Staff in large part to the skills I displayed during the campaign. But my boss needed someone he could trust with major tasks. More importantly, he needed someone who understood how he thought. This way, when he wasn't able to be involved in certain tasks, he could be confident that we'd reach the decision that best fit within our overall strategic thinking.

That trust and rapport were a big reason I was offered the role. I took that same approach with my team:

  • I actively sought out their advice and expertise

  • I encouraged discussion and dialogue among the team when considering various options

  • I checked in regularly about their ongoing work that did not involve me, in case they needed help

  • I learned about them personally

Trust and communication are vital to any team and are the foundations of your team's culture.

Lesson 4) Walk the walk.

My job required me to make hard decisions, have some really difficult conversations. And I can tell you I was nervous. But it HAS TO BE DONE.

I had to learn a lot about audits and accounting in order to communicate with my staff. Whatever the challenges your role throws at you, you must deliver on the objectives even if that means leaving your comfort zone.

A final tip to consider:

how to walk the leadership walk

Tune out the chatter. I was doubted, judged, and given a rather hilarious nickname by my Audit staff -- Surfer Boy!

But what matters is the results, and I delivered those. Do your best to ignore the chatter and remember that you're in this leadership role for a reason. Follow these lessons and you will find success, and winning removes all doubt.

[As you can see from the photo, I do in fact surf.

You can also see that I'm not very good at it!!]


About the Author:

Matt Beckmann - Management Consultant - Executive Coach

Matt Beckmann is the Founder & Managing Director of Ascent Consultants. In addition to experience as a former Chief of Staff to the Missouri Auditor and as a Corporate Vice President and General Counsel, he has advanced training and certifications in law, business, coaching, athletics, and leadership. His blog content, inspired by his deep passion for unlocking his reader's best potential, consistently equips business owners and individuals with the knowledge and resources to overcome obstacles that may be hindering growth.

Ascent Consultants - Management Consultants to Enable Your Business Growth

Ascent Consultants provides business and strategy consulting, executive and leadership coaching, and leadership assessments. By converting client growth goals into an actionable "game plan," we help companies and individuals unlock their full potential.

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