What I’ve learned about leadership from my side job


Human leadership is a skill we all poses. Some more than others but we should all have the ability to lead at some point. But what does truly make a great leader? It is not strength and position, nor money. But what is it? I'll share the story of my appreciation of leadership and the things I've learned so far.

We have all encountered leaders, whether in our current job, in school, or at your side job. Leaders have and will always be part of the human species. Once again there are both good and bad leaders and this remains a personal opinion. Leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela or Hitler and Stalin. All strong and inspiring leaders. Yet some used their power for the good, whilst the others used it to get even more power. So what makes a great leader? What does he or she have to do to lead well?

That’s a question I’ve been asking myself for some time now. This week I started reading the book Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. This made me realize what true leadership is about. That this has nothing to do with the number of people following you, nor with the way you look. It has to do with your leadership, your human leadership. The key part here is human leadership, but I’ll get to that in a minute.


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Working for a side job for 7 years

I’ve worked for the same company for 7 years. Not as a full-time employee but as a side job after school. I never liked the work I had to do but still, I liked working there. I cannot remember a day in which I didn’t feel like going to work. So what made the job enjoyable? What made it worth staying?

The people, for sure the people working there. To be honest, after 7 years of working there the people started to feel like family. For a large portion of these 7 years, the team didn’t change much. I worked with two of my best friends there and got to know my girlfriend at that job. I can still remember that and my best friend was discussing why we still worked there after 5 years or so. We both agreed that it was because we had our responsibilities and freedom. That we could work with friends and hang out, have fun and still work but that it didn’t feel like work. We found out that most of the time we looked forward to working again. Why? Because we could joke around all day and still do our work. It didn’t need me seriously all the time. We could make fun of one another, even with our manager. We would often hang out with her and make jokes.

She was the reason I could stay there for such a long time. Normally most young people could only work at a firm for two years after which they had to leave for half a year before coming back. Don’t ask me why, but it is the way these things work in the Netherlands. But my manager didn’t do that. She trusted us, she knew that we would stay for some time and that if we did we would be of great value to her. So instead of having to leave after 2 years, we had the option to stay for as long as we liked. Almost all of us who got this offer took it. This was the first example of what a leader does. She doesn’t always follow the rules but finds a way to work around them if it benefits the team.

I’ve learned a lot

I’ve learned a lot from her. Especially how to be a leader. Now she wasn’t your tough leader that was strict, but she did hold you accountable if you made a mistake. Not that she got mad or anything, she trusted you to correct it yourself. So in most cases, we did. She not only trusted us, but she builds a relationship with us. She listened, like really listened. She cared for us and sometimes even cried when things were shit. She wouldn’t just walk by you. She would stop and talk to you, ask you how your week has been and how you are doing. She would ask for advice and laughed with you. At one point I and my friend were flipping a bottle during work hours as she came in. She looked at us, laughed, and grabbed the bottle, and tried it herself. After which she walked on and continued with her own business. This to me is great leadership. It is not getting mad at those in lower ranks than you but holding them accountable for their own mistakes and helping them correct them. So next time they know what to do.

In these 7 years, I have never argued with her. Because we were on the same team if there was any problem we should strive to fix it together as a team, and not as one. She would go to someone who knew more about this problem and ask them for help. Not only that but she knew that we could solve problems ourselves so she didn’t have to be around all the time. This is trust in a company at its finest. And you could tell me that this doesn’t sound like a manager, that a manager should always be strict and tough. But to me, that has never worked. If I encounter people who are strict and act like they are better than me, I filter them out.

To be a leader who thinks he is better than any of his staff is not a leader. That is just someone with power misusing it.

A true leader strives to tackle problems as a team, using everyone to come up with a solution. Giving everyone responsibility and trusting them with it. Not checking every hour if they are still doing fine. But when things go wrong you do tell them and hold them accountable.

I’ve learned a lot in these 7 years, so I wanted to sum up the things that I’ve learned about being a leader.

  1. Lead with compassion and be human

One of the most important things I’ve learned is leading with compassion. It’s weird to me how I still have to name this. This should be incorporated into everyone but still, so many people care more about the outcome than the feelings of the other. Compassion is the number one skill we need more of in the world. And I call this a skill because you can develop it. You can grow it stronger and learn how to express it effectively.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

The greatest leaders of the time had compassion by their sides. Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Albert Einstein. They all lead with compassion, with deep care for the other. Not for themselves but the other. Helping them lift the burden. Helping them to live a happier life. Compassion, compassion, compassion. It is so important. Think and feel what the other feels instead of layering your own opinions and emotions on top of their story. A real human leader should know this skill and develop it always.

  1. Truly listen and get to know people

Not only do we need compassion but with compassion comes listening. Truly listening to someone. That doesn’t mean hearing the story and giving a similar story back out of your life.No listening is being silent. Both with your mouth and mind.

Listening is being silent. Both with your mouth and mind

Hearing the other’s story and trying to help them if they need help. Or to simply hear their story and share in their joy. Laugh with them, cry with them, understand them. I too have struggled to listen in a lot of cases. I am just too eager to share my perspective or story, and I am ashamed of doing that. By not saying anything about your own life you make more impact on the other’s life. I’ve learned this not only from my manager but also from my mom. She listened, never with the intent to interrupt me or give advice. She listened till I was done and then if I still needed help she gave me her advice. She asked questions and tried to understand me. She tried to understand my problems and my happiness by just listening and asking questions. That is all she did and it has made a great impact on me.

So I now try to listen, truly listen to people. It’s getting better each day. So trust me on these two lead with compassion and listen to others. Train these two skills and you will be able to lead people with ease.

  1. Build a family at work

The next one is mostly work-related. In these 7 years, I worked with mostly the same team. This team became a sort of work-family. A safe place for me to be in whilst working. This we should strive to create. Not only the leaders but the employees as well. If you are not in any position of a leader I still believe you can create this family feeling. By talking to the new person. Making them feel comfortable and safe, creating a bond between the two of you and trusting one another.

If your leader doesn’t do this, do it yourself. Make others feel good, assist them, help them, and spend time with them. These are all important things to do when building a family at work. After all the feeling you now have with your family wasn’t build in one day either. For me to be where I am with my family right now took 21 years. Building a trusting family at any place takes time and effort. But this feeling of safety in a working environment is incredibly powerful, and it is the base on which people work at their best.

  1. Have fun

I’ve had a lot of fun working at my side job. Flipping bottles at the peak hours, using garbage bins as curling pucks, and scaring the crap out of one another. So many amazing memories because we had fun. We acted like kids and we still are kids. This makes work fun. Hack this makes life fun. I now think to myself, why have I been so serious? It’s all about a little fun at times.

  1. Help one another

We didn’t just go around making jokes all day. We had to work of course and that not only involves doing your work. It requires you to do work for others as well. What if I came up to you and asked you with a little help, but you are really busy. Would you say yes or no? It’s a logical reaction to say no, but what if you would say yes? You could help the other and feel good and with that feeling, you could continue doing your thing. It would lift the feeling of stress for not finishing in time. It lifts the load of all you have to do.

Helping one another releases endorphins into your body which makes you feel good and happy. If you would have continued doing your work that burst of happiness wouldn’t have been there. So go and help your colleagues!

  1. Create a circle of safety

Last but for sure not least. This all helps create a circle of safety. Simon Sinek talks about this in his bookLeaders Eat Last. The circle of safety is built within a company. It is the culture, the people you work with, and the leader of your company altogether. It is a place we should strive to create in every job. A place in which everyone works at their best without having the constant anxiety of needing to do more. So be compassionate, listen, trust, have fun, and help one another this way you will build the circle of safety.

Only after reading this book, I realized we had all these things in place at the side job I did for such a long time. Maybe, this was the reason I stayed so long? No, I know it for sure, this circle of safety is the reason I stayed there such a long time and would have stayed there if they wouldn’t have closed down because of corona.

Be a leader

Being a leader has nothing to do with ruling and more to do with trust and safety. It really is the ability to listen to people and help them out. To put your obligations aside and help the other first. Leadership is more selfless actions than selfish actions. And I know I am only 21 years old, but does that matter? Leadership isn’t something just devoted to age. Even the most well-trained leader can still be a dick. Leading has more to do with compassion than it has to do with rules and order. It is constant training of learning and growing. So strive to be a leader for those around you. Not in a way that you force yourself to be a leader but to do it subtly. Start cultivating the skills I listed above, compassion, listening, building trust, helping, and creating that circle of safety.

This not only helps you at your workplace but in every aspect of your life. With friends, family, or your passion. Leading is not only devoted to working it is something we do each and every day again. All of us. That’s why I now more than ever appreciate the qualities of a good leader. The feelings of safety and trust that I have already experienced in my life.

Today I Lived

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