Timeless Advice for New Leaders

My eldest daughter just got appointed to her first leadership role which is fantastic.  So I thought I would jot down a few key guiding ideas for her (and others) to consider, because making the transition from being a team member to being a leader is never easy.

New managers are often under-prepared for the job, the have excelled in their team role and demonstrate great potential but are often just told “congratulations on the promotion” and then are expected to get into their first role as a leader and perform.   But you just don’t wake up one morning as a fantastic manager. It’s a transformation or growth process and mistakes are going to happen, and you are going to learn on the job.

New LeaderYou’re not alone. Any experienced manager will tell you that they’ve made their share of mistakes along the way (and if they haven’t then they are trying hard enough or are lying).   There’s definitely something to be said for learning from your mistakes but with a little awareness, you can drastically cut down on those mistakes and try not to make them in the first place.  So here some key guidance tips.

Understand that your relationship with your previous co-workers is now different.  You’re no longer a peer within the team. You are in charge. You may now be expected to assign and manage their tasks, and hold accountable for delivery. You analyse work performance and you conduct appraisals. You can’t be everyone’s best friend. Blurring those lines too much will lead to ineffective leadership. You will have to make objective and fair decisions more as a boss, and less as a friend.  Although becoming everyone’s friend might seem like a good way to win their trust, it might hurt your relationships with employees in the future. Remember, trust is built through transparent communication, being competent at what you do, being consistent and predictable in your dealings with people, genuinely caring about others, and always working with integrity.

Deal with performance issues fast as they happen.  Performance issues with staff will happen – as a leader you are expected to deal with them.  Get out and confront the issues. If you wait, issues only compound – it will not solve itself. When you deal with issues early, they are easier to tackle. Waiting means stiffer feedback and may even involve a larger group of employees if the problem have spun out of control.  Giving negative feedback is uncomfortable, but people generally respond well to constructive feedback. In addition to finding the way that works best for you and your team, you also have to learn how to actually deliver feedback.   Do it one conversation at a time.

You can’t let poor performance get in the way of team success. If you don’t address it, it doesn’t just disappear. Take a deep breath and have the hard conversations.  Confrontation in the workplace is inevitable. Whether it’s giving an employee a warning or confronting your team about a missed deadline, you have to address problems as soon as they happen.

Be confident in delivering unpopular decisions.  You have to stand behind your decisions, even when they are unpopular. Know that you probably wont’ and can’t please everybody.  The decision should be with the best interests for the business in mind.  But it’s not just a matter of “because I said so”. Decisions and the reasons why that decision has been made have to be explained fully. Employees can accept decisions more readily when they understand the “why” behind them.  If you are delivering a decision made by someone above you, then you need to be aligned to that decision (even if you don’t necessarily agree with it).  Deliver that decision as if it were your own.

Don’t try to change everything in your first week.  Innovation and new ideas are great. The worst thing in the world is having a mentality of “because that’s the way it’s always been done”. However, before you try to overhaul everything immediately take time to understand why things are done the way they are. There may be reasons that you simply don’t comprehend yet. Understand the process from a 360 view and then begin to introduce new ideas, get some feedback, and don’t forget to get ideas from your staff as well!

Don’t micro-manage employees and projects.  As a new manager, you’ll be tempted to monitor and provide feedback on every decision an employee makes. Even worse, you will do their work for them.  Instead of micromanaging your employees, give them the task expectations and the resources to do it, and allow them to perform their jobs and to come to you when they need help.  Your team members have the ability to do their jobs and meet your expectations. If you want your people to perform well, trust them with their responsibilities. They may not be able to do everything as well as you would like initially but if you always step in, they never will.  They need the opportunity to learn and grow – just like you.

Try and make timely decisions.  Decision-making is an important role for a manager. Don’t dwell so much on the minor parts of the decision.  You have to make decisions as a manager, some which will be popular with everyone, some which will be popular with some and unpopular with others and some which will be unpopular with everyone. Accept that when you take decisions, they will not be popular with everyone. It is not different from a meal that has been produced by a great chef. Some will love it, others might or might not like it and for some it will just hate it.   Take what you believe is the right decision based on the facts and information available, and what you think is best for the company to achieve the business outcomes and not necessarily the one that will please everyone.  But most importantly – make a decision – even if in hindsight it’s a wrong one– just make one.

Realise you are now a role model 24/7.  It’s the old saying – you lead by example.  Your employees need a strong leader from day one. What you say and do as a manager speaks more loudly than what you did as an employee. Your employees and colleagues are watching every step you take, so make sure what you say and do in the workplace counts.  They are watching what you, and what you don’t do, what you deal with and confront and what you don’t to work out what really matters to you.  The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.  Everything you now do role models the expected behaviour at work, whether you intend it to or not.

Its OK fail.  Now that as a leader you will fail at some things – especially dealing with the people stuff.  Everyone does and has.  Just reflect on it, and learn so you will do it better next time.  try different approaches or tools, but just authentically you.  leadership is a life long journey of learning.  The best leaders are the best learners and we learn best by doing and reflecting.

Its OK to ask for help.  New managers in particular try to hide their weaknesses and pretend that are the experts. Even the most successful leaders know that they don’t know it all. No-one expects you to know it all, and get it all right all of the time.  Actively seek feedback, gain knowledge and experience – you don’t have to do it in isolation.  Every successful leader has a mentor. Your new management position will have its ups and downs, so don’t hesitate to ask a co-worker or another manager for advice.

Lastly, but most importantly, Care for your people and inspire them.  If you genuinely care about your people they will care for you customers (internal or external).  If you inspire them and connect their daily tasks to the outcome and goal of the business, they will feel that what they do makes a difference in the world or community – create a sense of belonging and importance.  Give them regular honest feedback and praise, and thank them for their contribution, celebrate the wins and have fun.  Leading should be fun and enjoyable.  Growing your people and your team through good leadership is one of the greatest rewards.

Good luck

Greg is a Strategic Adviser at Advisory.Works

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