“It is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead and find no one there.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
Persons accepting promotion from individual contributor to leader often do not realize the extent of the change. All too often they assume that they will be doing basically the work as before except that they will now be ‘in charge’. In reality, a major change in responsibility is occurring. The new leader requires a different set of skills, attitude and behaviors. When we asked seasoned leaders what they wished they knew then that they know now, this is what they said:
1. Research your new job. Find out all you can about: the company (if it is one you have not previously worked for); the department you’ll be working in; your new job responsibilities; the history of the position; your predecessor and his or her approach to the job; and your new subordinates – if you don’t already know them. Also learn the purpose of your department, team or unit – what work is being done, what is the current state of play; your boss and your boss’s boss expectations and if you have customers, what their expectations are.
2. Start planning in advance. Form at least a tentative plan – it will be harder to plan once you are in position. Think about what you want to achieve and how you would like to develop yourself to match the demands of the job. Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses – how can you deploy your positive qualities and experiences to advantage and compensate for your limitations. Above all, don’t depart too dramatically and quickly from established practice.
3. Get to know your team. Meet with your team first together and then individually. Don’t skimp on time – these first meetings set the stage for building a productive relationship. Listen carefully, eliciting information about the work and about them as individuals. Consider leaving the team with a question to reflect on: “What should I do or not do to help you perform your job effectively?”
4. Focus on important relationships. Introduce yourself to customers (internal and external); suppliers, and the people who make up the professional network surrounding your job. Get to know your boss immediately. Find out such things as: the frequency of status reports (daily vs. weekly vs. monthly); the amount of information (just give me a quick update vs. a 5 page report); and the desired mode of communication (email, voice mail, face-to-face).
5. Identify likely standards of performance. Observe, listen and note what is acceptable and what is not in your new environment. Within a few weeks you should have some ideas of what your staff expects of you. Identify the criteria by which your boss, your peers, and your customers will judge you. Be honest with yourself – can you meet those standards? If not, what do you need to do? Consider who could help you and what the price might be.
6. Power up your people engine. Make a point of noticing and showing appreciation when someone puts in extra time and effort. If you are aware that another team member wanted or expected to get your job, acknowledge the fact. Express the hope that you can work together on a friendly basis and say that you look forward to his or help.
7. Don’t be the lone ranger. Lead by involving team members. Listen to what they are telling you, especially if the team has been working together for a long time. They probably have a better sense, then you as the new manager, of what is going on, what needs to be done, and where the sand traps are.
8. Set an example. Demonstrate strong personal commitment to achieving your department’s or unit’s or team’s goals. Build warm, friendly relationships rather than remain aloof. However, there is a fine line between being friendly and being a pal. When you put on the manager’s hat, your role changes. You want respect first and then hopefully being liked.
9. Take stock regularly. Take time to reflect on your progress at the end of your first week, your first month, and your first quarter. Identify issues that require immediate attention, and ways to deal with them, before they grow into big headaches. The pattern of behavior you set in your first three months will be extremely hard to change later. As a new leader, your primary task is to listen and learn.
10. Discover the leader in you. You can’t make sense of your role as a leader unless you know yourself first. Look to others for guidance but be true to who you are. “Leadership is a matter of how to be not how to do it. In the end, it is the quality and character of the leader that determines performance and results”, according to Frances Hellelbein of the Peter Drucker Institute.
Make sure you become a super not blooper leader.
As a busy leader, are you looking for a help desk to quickly solve your people problems that are consuming your time and energy? Marcia Zidle provides “nip-in-the-bud” coaching and “What Really Works” business success tools in these four areas: Leadership development, strategic staffing, employee motivaton and performance management. Contact Marcia at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-971-7619.