Business Opinion Print Sponsored Women Who Lead

Opinion: The 3 Biggest Mistakes I Made Trying to Be A Good Leader

Sponsored By Capital One
Written by Holly Jackson [Head of Customer Channels, Capital One Canada]

“She’s so put together, but you won’t actually get to know who she really is.” Those were the whispers I would hear at the office about me.

Time and time again, feedback on my leadership reported that I was intimidating, too results-focused, and not vulnerable.

Not vulnerable? Truth be told, those words didn’t make sense to me. I’d hear them and think to myself, “I’m not going to come into the office and cry. That’s just not who I am.” 

I built a reputation at Capital One Canada as being the type of leader who, when committed to doing something, would get it right. You could always count on me for that.

In business, I love solving problems; imagine a big, complex issue that feels incredibly chaotic. I thrive on delving into all of its different challenges, creating structures, and setting up a path that can bring calm to that chaos. 

I’ve always wanted to pass that operational excellence onto my team—to be a visionary manager who could lead with conviction in turbulent times. However, I was not accomplishing those leadership goals and I wasn’t sure why. So, a few years ago, I attended a personal development program, which finally helped me discover the missing link. 

Growing up, I used to look up to my dad, who worked in the financial industry. I wanted to be just like him, emulating his approach, mannerisms, and style. As a child, I strived to prove to my parents that I could excel at anything, without needing help. I could do it all on my own. 

At work, I mimicked the confidence and polish I used to see in my dad. My work persona was different from who I was at home; it’s no wonder my colleagues felt like they didn’t know the real me.

As I embarked upon my new leadership journey, I realized the three biggest mistakes I was making in trying to be a good leader.

Mistake 1. Vulnerability is a sign of weakness

I used to see vulnerability as the opposite of confidence, a value that was so dear to me. My biggest fear was having my colleagues think that I was not competent. However, having the confidence to share vulnerability builds trust. Asking for help shows I’m human and allows others to be part of the solution. Vulnerability, in fact, is a strength that unlocks true connections with others. 

Mistake 2. Time for personal discussions is an inefficient use of work time

Sure, idle chit chat may be a time waster, but taking the time to get to know someone on a personal level is critical to building productive, trusting working relationships. Each of us brings our whole selves to work. What happens in our personal lives directly impacts our work lives. There is huge value in understanding and caring about who a person is first before jumping into business. Today, I routinely grab coffees with team members to have a casual conversation and to better understand who they are. Remembering the little things shows I care about them and what they are going through. Creating openness so people feel comfortable sharing is a true leadership strength. 

Mistake 3. My team should be shielded from any chaos the business is facing

I used to think that it was my job as a leader to protect my team, thinking they would perform better if they weren’t exposed to the burdens I was facing. Without the full picture, team members feel like they’re driving blindly. In trying to shield the team from the bigger challenges at hand, we inadvertently make them feel excluded and untrustworthy. Ultimately, more stress when there is a lack of authentic transparency. As a result, it may signal that there is only partial accountability for work. My philosophy now is to be all-in with my team. We win together, we lose together, and we learn together.

Great leadership requires courage over fear, personal connections, and the strength to be fully transparent even in the face of adversity. I’ve learned over the years that this is the formula that makes for a great boss and, as a result, a great team.