Leadership in growing teams is like playing tetris

22 March 2023, By Catarina Oliveira, Director Canela Portugal

A lot has been written about leadership and there are definitely books that give crucial insights on the matter. Nevertheless, the truth is that the biggest course of leadership is (no surprises)… being one. And when we add a context of massive growth like we experienced, what was complex already goes to another new level of complexity.

Leadership demands a deep internal work breaking inner beliefs and working personal empowerment at the same time. It requires a great ability of observing and working with the team having in mind their own values, challenges and personalities. For us it is like playing tetris  (millennials, can you still remember that nerve racking music?): we have to know all the pieces and master all combinations in a limited time while siblings, cousins and friends do their best to distract us – not an easy task, but if we could make it then, there’s no way we can’t be successful now!

Be the leader you want to see

Regardless of having inspiring people in upper levels of the company, it’s crucial each leader invests time working to be their best version possible. That alone will send a huge inspirational message to others when it comes to resilience, self care and empowerment. There are two fundamental pillars when leading by example. The first one is communicating in an assertive and clear way so that everyone understands the culture and objectives of the company as well as what´s expected individually. This is particularly important when retaining talent, as many times people resign because they don’t feel committed nor engaged with the company. The second one is always being open to give and receive feedback. We all make mistakes and seeing our boss acknowledging a failure and sharing what learnings have come from it is just priceless.

Develop emotional intelligence

Being an adult business person doesn’t mean we have all put together – on the contrary, it is a non stop layers game to play. We all carry emotional backpacks from our childhood and daily lives that come across when managing people. It might happen when facing clashes within the team (that sometimes we don’t feel up to the task of solving) or dealing with the fact we recruit the wrong person considering the company’s values. Also, it’s important to accept the fact that it can be, sometimes, a very lonely job – especially when we need to make decisions that will pinch other’s values and expectations. Knowing yourself very well and working your mental flexibility is crucial to succeed. 

Impostor syndrome rings a bell?

This one goes especially to the women. Have you ever felt that you aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about you? Latest studies show a very disturbing reality: 75% of female executives surveyed reported experiencing Imposter Syndrome and 53% of the respondents between 25-34 years old are currently experiencing it. 85% of women have not spoken to someone at work about their struggles, for fear of being seen as weak. Let’s make it clear: you’re not a fraud! 

There’s some effective coping strategies, such as talking openly about it in your personal and professional circles and sharing your knowledge with others like giving lectures or classes – as frightening as it might be at the beginning, with time all the positive feedback received will decrease anxiety. Most importantly, will prevent you from self sabotaging yourself from all the success and accomplishment you deserve. As the team grows, this feeling might appear, grow or become a huge monster. It’s essential to face it and create a safe space at work to share struggles and overcome them as a group.

Learn to be an essentialist

In his Essentialism book, Greg McKeown stresses some mind blowing yet simple steps to develop a new mindset that will help working better, more efficiently and, ultimately, being happier in life. Especially when we experience dramatic growth inside companies, a new systematic discipline is required. It becomes crucial to learn how to make the wisest possible investment of time and energy in order to deliver the highest contribution by doing only what is essential. Establishing and communicating limits, dedicating non negotiable time to do deep work and learning to say no to busy work are some of the strategies we can all implement and inspire all team members to pursue as well.

Being a leader and mastering tetris can both be amazing and dreadful at the same time. The more people we have to manage, the higher the levels of the game. It’s definitely a great challenge with countless test and error moments, tears and victories along the way – and that’s the magic of being alive! What about you, what’s your biggest challenge?


Catarina Oliveira, Director Canela Portugal

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