A “Lucky Seven” Set of Tips for the Freshly Minted Leader
I congratulate you on your recent promotion into management! You have been a solid and innovative contributor to the organization throughout your time with it, and the offer to move up into a leadership role represents a reward for a job well done.
How do you make this critical transition from follower to leader? How do you shift from managing tasks and projects to managing a team of people? How do you remove yourself from “doing” and get better at “directing”?
Although it seems like some people have a natural ability to lead, everyone struggles with this shift in mindset and behavior:
- Your job relationship shift from peer-to-peer to leader-follower with old colleagues.
- Your relationships with other managers shift from follower to peer.
- Your relationships with senior managers remains one of follower, but with heightened expectations for performance.
And they seemingly have to happen overnight! My recommendation: Toss that “overnight” mindset out the window or over the cube wall. You must give yourself the time and space to learn how to lead people, and the organization must help you work through this big transition if it wants you to succeed and continue to contribute at a high level. Here are some of the key aspects of this transition that you can control to help you run up the leadership learning curve as a first-time manager:
Set clear performance expectations with your new boss.
This boss is now your first leadership mentor. He or she must connect you with resources for acquiring and honing leadership skills. The two of you must also set out a realistic development schedule for you in your new role, with a frank assessment of the hurdles you face (staff disgruntlement, small budget, aggressive goals, and so forth.)
Ask for help often.
Be honest about what you need to learn, and ask for help in getting the training and mentoring you need. Seek other mentors among new leaders in other departments to benefit from the successes and failures of their own transition into management. (They may also benefit from your perspective, too, in refreshing their own leadership mindset!)
Be patient with yourself.
You gain leadership skill over time. Expect to make mistakes. Plan ahead for those moments, and have support in place to get you over those hurdles.
Understand and accept that old relationships will change.
If you now manage old colleagues, you will have to reset those relationships. Some of your old peers will make the transition smoothly, others may struggle with it. Have frank discussions about what the issues are, but keep control over your emotions and maintain control over decision-making and direction. You are the boss, and “cutting some slack” to old friends for poor performance does not help you build an image of an even-handed, fair leader.
Define “need to know” broadly. You were only recently promoted, so you understand better than more senior managers what a frontline worker needs to work effectively. Act on that insight to keep your team fully informed of project goals, priorities, and deadlines. Effective communication builds trust with your team (you are working to make their professional lives better) and establishes your credibility. Take time to explain to your team how their own assignments and projects fit into the company’s larger goals. And make communication a two-way street, just as you liked it as an individual contributor. Seek questions and feedback from others every day. The longer you serve as a manager rather than a doer, the more you will need this feedback loop, so make it a leadership habit from Day One.
A great leader makes decisions, even when you and your team don’t have the chance to gather all the right information. Your job is to marshal your team’s energy and resources to achieve goals, and you must keep everyone forward-thinking and action oriented. This does not mean you stint on truth-seeking and idea exploration, but if a decision point arrives, accept your authority and responsibility and make one.
Develop your people.
You had the good fortune to win a promotion. Part of your job as a leader is now to help your subordinates achieve that same goal (if they seek it.) Actively plan with each employee about their personal goals within the organization. Connect each person with the resources the company offers to help meet those goals. Encourage them to foster relationships with other managers in areas that interest them. If you get the reputation as a strong developer of employees, people will want to work with you, and clamor to join your group.
I could have broken these “lucky seven” elements of building a transformational leadership mindset into ten or even twelve, and added another ten, but my intent is simply to get you to accept that leadership “perfection” is a distant goal, and there are a lot of things you can do right from the start that can raise your effectiveness, while still leaving you the freedom to fail, ask for help and learn. As long as you value your employees and their contribution, accept personal responsibility for successes and failure, demand similar behavior from your team, and have a bias towards action, you will steadily develop yourself into an effective leader.
If you are a newly promoted manager, and have a few thoughts to share with other folks in similar positions, leave a comment about it under this article. Everyone benefits from sharing experiences, as it accelerates our mutual understanding of how leadership mindsets develop!
Enjoy your leadership journey!
Note: While I wrote this to help launch new managers more productively into their new roles, I bet you know a few seasoned managers that didn’t get the help they needed to launch their own leadership career the right way. Share this short list with them to help them kick-start the process of resetting and rebuilding their leadership mindset the right way.