Updated: Mar 24, 2021
As a new leader, you may be looking for help and guidance, but may be reluctant to ask.
Others in your position often feel the same way. Surveys have validated much of what is anecdotally discussed about new leaders (and which you may be experiencing). Many up-and-coming leaders believe they are not fully prepared for their recent promotion.
In a survey of 1,100 frontline managers by DDI, a global leadership consulting firm, only 44% of respondents felt they knew what was needed to succeed. Further, 89% possessed at least one leadership “blind spot.” When asked to describe, in one word, their first year of leadership experience, not surprisingly their No. 1 response was “challenging” (45%), followed by “stressful” (18%).
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Learning to Lead
To simply state a seemingly complex challenge, new leaders need to be better prepared to lead.
Fortunately, leadership can be learned. (I understand this puts me on one side of the “are leaders born or made” debate. Yes, there are variables, but I stand by my position). What’s challenging is that new leaders need to rely largely on themselves to do it. In that DDI survey, only 11% said they were groomed to be leaders by their organizations.
As a first step, here are three areas and corresponding action steps you can focus on now to become better prepared to lead high-performing teams for years to come.
1. Lead self.
New leaders need to be courageous enough to seek out resources that can help advance their learning curve. Being open and hungry for knowledge, feedback, and constant improvement (a.k.a., an intense level of self-awareness) are key areas that all leaders need to embrace – early on and for the long-term.
Reflection and self-awareness are the name of the game in leading self. Realizing your need to be a student of leadership as well as your own teacher is a good place to start. Pause to reflect on what drives you. Accept there are gaps and weaknesses you have to overcome to be a great leader. What does the future hold for you as a leader? Who is the future “you?”
One area for consideration of self-awareness and improvement opportunity is allowing yourself as the leader to not always be the first to speak. Being comfortable relying on others and not being the smartest person in the room (that comes from my dad) all give others a chance to shine. That’s how you lead. You have to give your team members the opportunity to grow – and ultimately this will reflect well on you. Remember, your job is leading, not doing.
Action steps: Jot down your perceived strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Ask others to weigh in and make it safe for them to do so by being open to their feedback. You need outside insight to uncover blind spots.
2. Lead your relationships.
New leaders often struggle with managing relationships – with their team, peers and bosses. Leading and managing key relationships is essentially your No. 1 job now. When you nurture good relationships across the board, your team delivers results, your peers collaborate, and your manager knows (and sees) your individual and collective successes.
Remember, it’s your team, your peers, and your boss. Don’t be so intently focused on managing those around you that you forget to manage up. You need to work that relationship with your boss. Your boss wants to hear about your team’s wins and what you are doing to achieve them. Additionally, be sure to communicate the progress you are achieving fostering alliances with your peers, as well as the problems you are tackling, and the opportunities you are uncovering together.
Action steps: Score your relationships with your boss, peers and team members. Then invest in some face time with those individuals. Get 1:1 meetings on the calendar and keep the agenda open. Your goal is to better get to know those you work with and have them get to know you better too. Continue these conversations and monitor your progress as you nurture these core and invaluable relationships.
3. Lead the expectations.
Often new leaders go to their bosses expecting to be told what to do. Nope. You are a leader, not a doer. It’s your job to hear and anticipate your boss’ expectations and deliver the plan to achieve them. It’s your job to make sure that your boss’ thinking and your thinking align. This may involve some uncomfortable conversations, but ultimately you have to make sure that what you each consider success and how you measure success are in synch.
Likewise, you have to lead and manage the expectations with your team. This starts with clear communication. Clarity and alignment are vital here. Be upfront with your team about what you expect – based, of course, on the agreed-upon expectations set with your manager. Then, be clear with your team on how, together, you will measure progress toward these expectations.
Action steps: Before meetings with your boss or team members, score the projects in the pipeline. Do their scope and objectives match with what’s been communicated? During your meetings gain feedback from the other side. Do you have alignment? Adjust the way you approach these projects and communicate goals and objectives accordingly.
Bottom line: Be an intentional leader. Understand and embrace the fact that your thinking and actions are at a different perspective – a leadership perspective that is no longer the same as it was in your role as a doer.
It’s your time to take the lead: Lead self. Lead your relationships. Lead the expectations.