The thrill of a new promotion into a leadership position can be quickly eclipsed by feelings of disillusionment and a sense of failure if you are not prepared and are not strategic in your transition. Too many new leaders hit the ground running only to realize that, although they possess the requisite technical skills to get the job done, their ability to lead people is inadequate. Oftentimes companies equate an individual contributor’s excellent performance as a sign that they are ready for leadership— and nothing can be further from the truth. New and even existing leader should consider the following as critical must do actions to support a strong leadership career.
See the organizational big picture.
The minute you are promoted, you can no longer be only concerned with just your job at hand. Take the time to understand your organization on a deeper level. Know the strategic goals and objectives, read the annual report, know the challenges the organization is facing, get even more familiar with the politics and know the key stakeholders and influencers. When attending interdepartmental meetings, pay attention to what’s going on in other departments instead of just focusing on your area. Be aware of how your organization’s competitors and external issues affect your organization’s success.
Build your circle of influence.
The stronger your network, the quicker you will transition into leadership and claim some wins. If you took this job as a stretch assignment, surround yourself with the mentors and influencers who can guide you through the organizational landmines that can slow your progress and even derail your career. Lean on this circle to cut your learning curve but also allow them to be your eyes and ears in places you cannot access. This circle should be a combination of people within your organization whom you trust but also reach outside the organization and even outside your industry.
Work on your leadership confidence and executive presence.
The pressures of leadership can be daunting, especially in the first few months. You are trying to gain a clear understanding of your job, learn more about your team and yet appear confident, competent and in control. New leaders stumble when they are not able to read people and situations quickly; they are hasty to prove themselves and may come off as brash. Learn the delicate dance of listening to the needs of your team, valuing their input, building trust, and in so doing you create the space to make informed decisions that make you look confident and in control.
Prepare to lead your friends and coworkers.
As an individual contributor, you may have spent hours complaining about management with your friends and coworkers, but your promotion into leadership essentially means that the dynamics of these relationships must change. Be careful not to appear to have favorites. Put a healthy distance between yourself and those you manage, especially with those you had a close relationship with. It might be a bit lonely at first so seek refuge in other leaders who have similar experiences.
Get comfortable with conflict.
Conflict is inevitable when you are working with people but most leaders try to head it off. No leader wants to be at the helm of the team where there is always in-fighting and chaos is the rule of the day, but you also don’t want to be the team where ideas are squashed often and certain personalities make it a toxic environment in which to work. Conflict can be healthy. It is possible for teams to disagree yet respect each other and even use conflict as a problem-solving tool. Strive to be the leader who masters this skill.
Enroll in a leadership program.
If you are to be an effective leader, it’s essential for you to know how to coach your employees to higher performance, manage conflict, negotiate on behalf your department and team, delegate and think strategically, among other skills. Although some skills can be learned on the job, it will be to your advantage to dedicate the time to hone those skills through a combination of a formal leadership program and mentoring.
Design your personal policies and procedures that govern your life.
Every leadership position comes at a price. Late nights, early mornings, missed personal events and opportunities that sometimes make it easy to compromise your values. Decide what boundaries need to be put in place to maintain your integrity and your sense of self as your power and influence grows and your earning capabilities increases. Power and money impact people differently so be vigilant about how you manage these changes.
Think inside the box and out-of-the-box.
So much emphasis has been placed on out-of-the box thinking that time and energy is wasted on things that are simple and straightforward. Yes, out-of-the box thinking has its place and can revolutionize an organization but it does not apply to everything. There are solutions that simply require careful thought and common sense.
Schedule personal thinking time.
It’s rare that new leaders take the time to actually sit and reflect on the wins and learning lessons on a regular basis. Developing this habit early in your leadership journey will afford you the creative energy to be objective regardless of what is before you.
You’re A Leader, So Now What was Published in The CIM Toronto Manager Winter 2017 Edition on Page 8. Download the full PDF here.
Karen Hinds is a leadership and diversity and inclusion expert. She used her experience in building talent pipelines for financial services companies to launch her company over 20 years ago. Workplace Success Group is a strategic, talent development firm that works with organizations to cultivate and retain their next generation of leaders.