4 Lessons Learned Surviving My First Leadership Role – Barely


My first foray into leadership was a way to keep a job. It was either advance into the unknown or advance to the unemployment line.

Considering I had a young son at home, it was not a hard decision.

One day I was part of a group, the next I was the leader. It did not equate in my head and it certainly did not translate well in the minds of some of my former peers.

There were benefits to being promoted to a leadership position and they were tempered with drawbacks:

  • More pay, countered by a salary which meant 40 hours was now considered part time.
  • A title that would look good on a resume, countered by resentment by my former peers and the added bonus of not being respected by colleagues who still saw me as “just one of the girls”
  • The chance to learn new things, countered with anxiety from realizing I knew nothing at all beyond my previous scope.
  • The chance to be seen and recognized by executive leadership and possibly move up in the organization, countered with the spotlight always on and feeling like I was constantly under a microscope from, and failing, both sides of the field.

It was a field, literally feeling like a battlefield some days.

My supervisor was kind in teaching me my new responsibilities. She was patient, extremely knowledgeable and kind. She also told me the worst thing I had heard to that point in my career:

“You realize, no one is going to like you now. You get used to being alone at work.”


I thought that couldn’t possibly be true, I was a likeable person. My former peers liked me, we had lunch together and laughed. Just because I am now doing something a little different, they can’t not like me for that.

Oh yes, they can.

I was no longer invited to lunches and conversations stopped when I approached. I was an outsider not by anything that I had done, but by a title I accepted.

Mean things were said and I heard my mom’s voice in my head, “Be the bigger person; two wrongs do not make a right.” Plus, I didn’t’ think my supervisor would accept the reason for unprofessional behavior of, “She started it.”

Lesson One: Do Not Take It Personally

There were several departments that I now had to interact with and have decision making in; I knew nothing about them really.

The first couple of weeks I was in full panic mode thinking the only way I was going to earn any respect was to, within two weeks, learn everyone’s job and how they did it.

That faded fast.

Lesson Two: You Do Not Have To Know Everything

I was now partnering with co-workers who I used to report to and support. They treated me like I was their secretary and blew me off.

Most of them were men and would “tease” me, which is a nice way of saying a form of schoolhouse, playground bullying on the gentler side of the scale. I heard a lot of “girl” and “gal” as a constant reminder I was not one of the boys.

Lesson Three: They Will See You For What You Present Yourself To Be

I started to see processes that were duplicating efforts or just made no sense in the way they were being done. When I brought this up to my supervisor, I was told it was the way it had always been done, or I was still too new to really know better. Shot down at every turn.

Lesson Four: If They Are Not Going To Hold The Door Open For You, Open It Yourself

In the beginning, it was a constant battle ending each night like I had just stepped out of the ring and got the crap knocked out of me by a prize fighter. I would put on a happy face at work then lick my wounds on the way home then put on the happy face for my son.

I lived a lie all the time and I got tired of it.

I had no leadership training, no tips on how to be a good manager, time management, communication or relationship building – no mentoring.

I was thrown into the wolves like entertainment akin to the Roman Coliseum Fights.

Lesson Five: Opportunities Are What You Make Of Them

I had enough. I realized that I was ruining an opportunity I was given. I had a chance to learn and grow as a person in this position and it was about time that I appreciate the gift I was given.

I drew upon something my dad had taught me: if you do not stand up for yourself, no one else is going to.

I decided I was either going to kick this opportunity’s butt or I was going to go down in flames, either way, it would be one heck of a ride. This is not a management style that I would recommend.


Not everyone hated me, maybe just a few. They only made my life hell if I let them.

I stopped responding. I learned to control my body language to not give away that I was either hurt or ticked off.

I was polite, patient and skipped over the nasty comments.

I was consistent in my actions and words. I treated everyone with respect even when they did not deserve it, even if I did not personally like them. I focused on the value they brought to the table instead of the personality and I made sure to recognize them for that value.

I approached my team members and asked for their help. I explained what we were trying to do, recognized them for their expertise and told them I needed their help.

I asked questions as to why they did things the way they did and made it clear that I was not judging or confronting, I wanted to learn and understand.

I had no hesitation in admitting when I did not know something. If someone gave me kudos for something, I recognized the team and the team members that made it happen. I shined the light on them for their value they gave every day to the organization.

Growing up with boys helped, I knew how to talk boy. I also had a son at home so I knew how to use the mom voice when I needed to and to quiet the schoolyard blowhards.

They wanted to make sure I knew I was not one of the boys – damn straight – I’m a girl!

I moved across the office from one of the leaders and the blowhards were having a grand time. One told me, “You better watch out, when he gets mad he throws things out of his office!”

I calmly looked at him and then the gentleman in question and replied, “That’s okay, I’ll just throw it back – and I don’t throw like a girl.” I smiled sweetly (as my mother would tell me to do) and walked away.

No, I am not one of the boys, but you are not going to pull my pigtails, either.

Tired of trying to change things and being told “it has always been done that way” or not being there long enough, I stopped asking for permission.

I started small, just little tasks or projects that I recreated, applied and then showed to my supervisor. At first there was pushback, but since I had started earning the trust of my team, they would let her know how these changes had helped them do their job.

In time, she began to trust me when I had an idea, although not completely and sometimes it was a tug of war, but I persisted. I also told her that I valued her opinion and I would really like her thoughts on a new way when presenting bigger ideas. We began to partner.

I started keeping a mental list of accomplishments and things I learned each day and reviewed them on my way home. I stopped beating myself up for mistakes, and I made many, and focused on the positives.

The lions and I made peace.


Nearly 20 years later I am now coaching on leadership, communication, moving careers and businesses forward. Although the journey has not always been a pleasant or smooth one, I cherish every twist and turn because it allows me to connect.

For those venturing into leadership for the first time know this: no CEO started as a CEO.

After many years of leadership, development and coaching, may I humbly offer the following bits of advice:

  • Take head from the lessons and paths of others.
  • Find a mentor.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • Accept your flaws, amplify your strengths.
  • Learn to laugh at yourself.
  • Learn to ask and more importantly, learn to listen.
  • Do not try to please everyone – it will never happen.
  • Love and appreciate yourself.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Get a hobby outside of work, get a life outside of work.

And lastly:

  • To heck with not being afraid to fail – embrace failing miserably! That is where your greatest lessons come that lead to your greatest successes. Plus it is a lot more fun when you free yourself!


I help identify and set a path to achieve individual career and company goals by using the V Formula:

Your Value + Your Voice = Visibility

Visibility is the leverage to move up or move on in your career; expand your book of business, grow your company and strengthen your team.

★ In order to be kept up to date on all my articles, please visit: LisaKMcDonald.com ★
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Lisa K. McDonald, Owner and Principal of Career Polish, Inc. is a speaker and seminar facilitator at companies and professional organizations speaking to leadership, sales, teams, transitioning/downsized employees and networking groups about career mobility, personal branding, networking, creating executive presence and achieving career movement success. To find out more, visit Career Polish, Inc.

My Superwoman Cape Strangled Me

Yesterday I was a panelist at the ASIS International Indianapolis Chapter meeting discussing careers, transitions, branding and service in the law enforcement/security industry.  I was honored to be asked to participate and further honored to be sitting with two very distinguished and intelligent men as panelists. 


During the course of the conversation the topic of mentoring came up, specifically mentoring young college students wanting to get into the industry. First – how fabulous is it that this group of professionals actively want to mentor?  Pretty freaking fabulous if you ask me!


One point that I brought up was about expectations.  I encouraged them to ask any potential mentee what their expectations are about the industry and certain jobs in terms of what happens when they graduate and possible career paths.


A second point, somewhat related, was getting exposure to life skills or skill sets that are important yet not normally thought about – written communication for example.  It is vital in any industry but let’s face it, write a warrant incorrectly or unclearly and you are screwed.


I was discussing the meeting with my best friend this morning and she brought up another topic that – and I am generalizing here – young people need to learn: time management.


Ok, I’m just going to say that I just had to give myself a mental smack because using the term “young people” instantly makes me feel old and I did it to myself.  Damn it!


One thing I love about my best friend is that her mind takes the same twists and turns that mine does so our conversations begin at point A and take some weird, winding path to reach point 14.  It works for us.  During our conversation we realized two things:


  1.  There is no such thing as time management.
  2. We, as parents/caregivers/providers are primarily responsible for young people’s inability in time management.


It is because we wear Superman capes.


This point was further illustrated to me courtesy of my 21 year old son this morning.


Now that I have about four different lines of thought going on here, let’s see if I can bring it all together to actually make my original point…stay with me here…


Illustration from my son


My son got a tax refund – yay him.  It was mistakenly mailed to him instead of being deposited into his account.  I received the check yesterday and let him know that 1. Calm down, I got your check and 2. I would be depositing it into his account today.


I got a call, ok, repeated calls until I answered, this morning asking if I had deposited it yet.  I had a scheduled call this morning and planned on doing it after my call.  This did not set well with him.  His expectation was, and I may be exaggerating a bit here, that I would be waiting outside the bank doors for when they opened so  I could get it in there the first possible moment of the day.   


Yeah, not going to happen. 


I explained that I have a schedule and I worked it into my schedule.  After explaining this and letting him know that if he had certain expectations I would suggest that he communicate them to me prior to the day of the event.  His response was that he needed it deposited.


I tried to do the grown up explanation thing, that didn’t work.  So I responded, “Well baby my world isn’t always on your schedule.”


That pretty much ended communications for the day.


No, wait, I literally just got a response: “Yes it is, your my mom”


There is no such thing as Time Management


Time cannot be managed.  It is a continual, constant every progressing thing.  Everyone has the same parameters.  You cannot bend time or make it adjust to you.  We do not manage time we manage actions.


Knowing you have set parameters to work with allows you to manage the activity within those confines to complete whatever tasks are at hand.  You learn to plan, identify resources, prepare and allow for challenges.  This is action management, not time management.


Need to write a report? The most effective way to do so is plan; not your time per se but your activities.  You need to perform research, how much time will you allow for that.  You need to compose a draft, how much time is involved in that?  You need to perform revisions and finally a final draft.  Included in those time parameters are you allowing for delays, interruptions, writers blocks or heaven forbid technology issues? 


Now, knowing what all is involved, where do they fit into your schedule?  Do you have classes to attend, a job to perform, family commitments?  This is true management.  Seeing the entire picture and blocking out the appropriate time.


This is where the Superman cape has strangled us and we have failed our children or young people (dang it, there is that phrase again.)  Again, a generalization, but stick with me.


Throwing Away our Superman Capes


When my son was younger he was involved in a lot of things: school, sports, practices, family activities and personal time.  He never just played one sport, oh no, he had to have about 10 things going on at one time.  So, being the good mom, I controlled all the scheduling.


I knew when the practices where, what time, what was required, fitting travel time into all the planning and made sure I got his little butt to everything he needed. 


I made his little life easier because I handled all the logistics.


It was a mistake – one I wish I would have realized a long, long time ago.  I never allowed him to think about what was involved in participating in all these things; ie the time commitment and the conflict with other people’s schedule (namely mine).


He just knew the schedule that I prepared.  I wish I would have taken a step back and said, “Ok, you have practice at 6 – what do you need for it?”  This would have allowed him to think about getting his practice gear ready.  Then I could have asked, “Did you wash it?  It will take about an hour to do so, so when are you going to do that to make sure it is ready for practice” instead of saying, “I washed it, it is in the dryer. – because I wear the cape”


I would have also asked, “What time is practice and how are you getting there?”  This would force him to think about the time prior to practice and if I had a conflict.  What if I had a client meeting and couldn’t take him?  He would be walking if he didn’t work it out with me prior; and if he was walking that was additional time he would need to tack on to his schedule.


The cape I wore so proudly that allowed me to get him where he needed, all prepared actually strangled me.


I didn’t help him prepare for managing activities himself. 


So let’s not be so hasty to get frustrated with (sigh) young people for their lack of “time management”.  They haven’t been taught because we have been so busy wearing capes.  Even in a work setting, we are making the same mistake, in setting schedules for them instead of engaging them and asking them to assist or even think about the planning.  Because it is easier to do ourselves.  And why not, we’ve been wearing the cape so long, we know how to do it with our eyes closed.


I hung up my cape a long time ago, but as you see, the effects of wearing it for so long still come back to bite me in the…I mean strangle me. 


I recognize that I have played a part in the lack of certain skills (not that I like admitting that) but in doing so I also realize if I helped set the stage for it, I also have a responsibility to retrain the brain.


It ain’t easy or fun; but it is important.  Take a look at the (double sigh) young people around you – are you allowing them to learn?  It is time we stop complaining about their lack of skills and knowledge and give them the opportunity to learn. 


Be a mentor and when you do incorporate not just industry skills, but life skills and skill sets that we take for granted from wearing that cape for so long.  They are not going to get it right the first time and it may be a struggle because it is new to them, but given the opportunity, communication and expectations, they will surprise you and that will make them much more prepared to succeed.


Lisa K McDonald, CPRW

Brand Manger & Career Coach

Certified Professional Resume Writer





Learn More By Teaching More

Hoarding your skills and abilities does not equate to job stability it results in isolation.  Every organization is dependent upon cooperation and collaboration therefore isolation is in direct conflict with growth.  Simply put – it is a good way to work yourself out of a job.


Whether you are happily employed or looking for the right opportunity there is one thing you can do to improve your existing skill set: help someone else.


I love giving seminars and facilitating workshops.  It keeps me fresh, lets me continually see other’s perspectives and make sure I am on focus with what I am doing.  I love mentoring because even if we are discussing something that has become routine to me, explaining and discussing it helps me re-evaluate my approach and thought process.  It also allows for someone else to question my methods or processes, which is truly a benefit and a powerful way to improve my level of service to others.


In job searching it can assist you by allowing you to remain fresh in your field and also build your confidence in selling yourself to others.  It also allows you the opportunity expand on your network.  You never know where that next great lead will come from.


Most importantly, it allows you in any situation to give back and help someone else.


Sometimes we get so ingrained in what we are doing we get tunnel vision.  We can only see our goals, our troubles or our vision.  We loose site of those around us.  When we turn our attention away from ourselves and start giving to others we often find when we look back at our goals or vision they become more clear and our troubles much less.


And by golly, it just feels good to help someone else.


If you are job searching join a professional network or business group, offer yourself as a mentor to others in that field.  At work let junior colleagues know you are willing to offer assistance if they need it or tell your boss you would like to serve as a mentor or trainer if an opportunity arises.


Open yourself up and put your self out there for people to call upon you to help and you will be amazed at how much they end up helping you on so many levels.



Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW