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3 Things Emerging Leaders Need the Most

By Kima L. Tozay, LICSW, Clinical Social Worker

Emerging leaders endure many stumbling blocks on the road to becoming confident, seasoned leaders. It’s one of the hardest positions to be in. It’s a period fraught with unknowns, uncertainties and unobtainable goals that leaders place upon themselves in an effort to be the heroes at work.

Stepping into a leadership role can be scary at first, especially if you don’t feel prepared to lead. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review puts a positive spin on and draws attention to the common fears of leaders: the fear of being human, the fear of failing and the fear of connecting with their own emotions. The writer asserts, “The pandemic has highlighted what was already becoming clear before the emergence of the virus: that hero leaders are no longer what companies need. The most effective leadership today — at all levels — isn’t about technical expertise and having all the answers. Besides articulating a compelling vision, it’s about being human, showing vulnerability, connecting with people, and being able to unleash their potential.”

Besides having a team of cheerleaders, a roadmap for success or individualized leadership development plans, emerging leaders need support. They need room to fail forward, as well as genuine feedback from peers and other leaders.

Let’s explore the three things emerging leaders need the most to help them face their fears, trust their instincts and be their authentic selves.


Just like a house needs a solid foundation to provide adequate shelter, so do people. Without a strong foundation of support, new and aspiring leaders lack the stability necessary to grow confidently in their roles, take on different career challenges and lead effectively from any leadership position. To harness their full potential, they’ll need a personal team of mentors.

Support can be offered in a variety of ways: mentoring and sponsoring relationships, allyship, shadowing opportunities, flexible work schedules and taking genuine interest in developing new leaders.

Room to Fail Forward

For emerging leaders, having the room to fail is just as important as shifting one’s mindset about failing. It may seem counterintuitive to embrace failure while trying to excel forward, but failing is essential to success.

In her popular book “F’d Up: The Upside of Failure,” Tiana Sanchez asserts there is an upside to failure. Sanchez encourages focusing on the lessons that emerge from failure and the new skills developed from the experience of failing. This is a new way of thinking about failure.

“To remove the sting associated with failure, we must first acknowledge and accept our failures and then ask the tough question – why did I fail?” Sanchez says.

Giving room to fail forward means showing compassion when leaders make mistakes. Remember the formula: Compassion = Empathy + Action. Organizational cultures that view failure as a natural part of learning and self-development will help new leaders build resilience as they encounter setbacks along the way.

Genuine Feedback

You’ve heard the saying: “You don’t know what you don’t know.” For an emerging leader, this position can represent a double-edged sword. You’re still learning and growing in your leadership so you’re not sure what you should know. Yet you don’t know what to expect because you lack the knowledge and wisdom to ask the right questions or find the right answers. This is where genuine feedback makes a difference.

Emerging leaders need genuine feedback from peers and other leaders about what they are doing well and what they need to improve. Many leaders, particularly woman leaders, don’t receive meaningful feedback from their peers and supervisors, which over time hurts their leadership potential. A good practice is adopting a culture of giving feedback that is timely, specific and non-judgmental.

Emerging leaders must be self-aware and emotionally mature to fully meet the challenges that come with leading change and leading people. For more ideas on how you can fully support an emerging leader on your team, check out my previous blog post “4 Easy Ways to Operationalize Empathy in Your Workplace.”

Kima Tozay is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and subject matter expert on Counseling and Advocacy programs in her role at Navy Fleet & Family Support Center, Everett, Washington. Her government career spans 15 years, starting in the Navy. Kima completed her Master’s in Social Work degree from the University of Washington and has held positions with the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) and the Army. Kima’s greatest career accomplishment is receiving the Federal Employee of the Quarter Award for her leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. She earned an Executive Leadership Certificate from Graduate School, USA. You can connect with Kima on LinkedIn.

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected]. And to read more from our summer/fall 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort and a link to their stories.

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