Kathleen Shannon didn't set out to be a leadership expert, but more than three years into co-hosting the highly rated podcast Being Boss with Emily Thompson, she realizes she stepped directly into the leadership lexicon.
“If you'd asked me, when Emily and I started Being Boss, if our podcast was going to be about leadership, I'm not sure I would have said yes," Shannon says. “We focus our episodes and interviews for an audience of creative entrepreneurs on mindset, habits, routines, money and work/life balance. Now I realize that those are all tenets of leadership."
Shannon, co-founder of Braid Creative, a branding agency based in Oklahoma City, met Emily Thompson, owner of Almanac Supply Co., a maker/retail business in Chattanooga, several years ago at a conference where they started talking about their respective blogs and businesses. The pair then began touching base over the phone every month or so to discuss their businesses and challenges, and pretty soon decided to take those vulnerable conversations public in a podcast form. The show has included interviews with business luminaries and experts like Dr. Brené Brown.
The podcast has become so successful that they co-wrote a book called Being Boss: Take Control Of Your Work & Live Life On Your Own Terms, focused on helping creative entrepreneurs (many of them freelancers) navigate the sometimes-rough waters of achieving success.
Now, several years into her podcast and company, Shannon offers leadership lessons for people in all areas of business:
1. Let go of power.
Most leaders feel like they can do it all, and in many cases, have been doing it all in their companies for years. It can be difficult to hand over the reins.
“I've learned that good leaders are highly capable and can do it all, but great leaders will mentor others into leadership roles and let go of their power," Shannon says. “It's a little like parenting; you want to raise the people who will take over some day."
2. Be generous.
People in leadership or management positions have a tremendous amount of knowledge from experience, and Shannon believes that the best leaders will be generous with that knowledge.
“For me, this may look like showing a junior designer how to design something instead of doing it for them, and then asking for suggestions along the way," she says.
3. Be yourself.
“You no longer have to compartmentalize who you are with the work you do," says Shannon. “I make sure to bring humanness into the workplace. I might talk at the office about my kid going off to kindergarten and about how a client hurt my feelings and how I'm not sure what to do next."
Being yourself is a balancing act, she notes.
“I like that Brené Brown recommends to share what is vulnerable, not what is intimate," Shannon says. “I try to stick to that."
4. Set firm boundaries.
Figure out the boundaries that work for you, and stick to them. For Shannon, boundaries are helpful when it comes to email.
“So many people feel that they need to respond to email immediately and set up every notification," she says. “I try to be clear on when I'm available and when I'm not. I'm fortunate that I'm pretty good at my boundaries."
5. Identify the work that is most meaningful to you.
Many leaders work their way up in organizations only to realize that they are spending most of their time managing people versus doing the work they love. For Shannon, this was a harsh realization.
What many great leaders do is take care of themselves—they take vacations, take weekends and evenings off, cook their own food, spend time with their loved ones. [...] All of this is helps you be the most effective leader possible.
—Kathleen Shannon, co-host, Being Boss
“Over the years, I've come to understand that I still want to hone my craft as a graphic designer, not just manage the people on my team," she says. “I didn't realize this at first; it took Being Boss to become so successful to be disconnected with what got me there. Now I know that I don't like just talking about the work. I like doing the work."
6. Find a “business bestie."
It can feel lonely at the top, which is why having someone to talk with is so important. Shannon found that person in Thompson, and she recommends others find their trusted group of people, too.
“Share your struggles with others: what you like doing, what you don't like doing," she says. “I've found this is to be so helpful."
7. Take care of yourself.
Today's leaders are talking more about self-care and less about 18-hour workdays than ever before—and for good reason.
“You are seeing that what many great leaders do is take care of themselves—they take vacations, take weekends and evenings off, cook their own food, spend time with their loved ones," she says. “All of this helps you be the most effective leader possible."
Photos from top: Getty Images, Courtesy of Kathleen Shannon