In my earlier years I wanted to be in a leadership position so badly for so long and I was pretty forthright in pursuing it. Then when I got the opportunity I was delighted! Unfortunately a huge driver for me was ego; I wanted the title more than I understood what actual good leadership was. Technically I knew the answers but I lacked the maturity so when things went wrong I looked ‘out the window’ to attribute blame rather than ‘in the mirror’. I found dealing with people who had different ways of thinking and going about achieving things differently difficult and I certainly lacked the trust to allow people to do a task in their own way. This combination of ego, lack of trust and immaturity was a complete recipe for disaster, and it (or I!) was.
It was only through good mentorship and coaching that I understood what good leadership looks like and actually is in practice. I fear that, due to the shortage of staff, less experienced people are being promoted into leadership positions well before they are ready to take on the responsibility. To make the situation worse, those leaders who promoted them into these positions are largely too busy to spend time with them to show them the ropes and help them deal with challenging situations. It’s not their fault; due to staff shortages everyone is overworked! It really is a tricky situation because companies don’t want to lose key individuals and it certainly makes sense at the time to promote them. However, leadership is hard and without the necessary support I fear we’re setting them up for failure.
The larger problem with inexperienced leaders who don’t have support is the impact this is likely to have on their teams. It doesn’t take much for a team to lose confidence in their team leader which can lead to dissatisfaction, disharmony and poor performance. This is a cocktail for disaster which often leads to team members voting with their feet. So what can be done about it?
The new leader must first recognise that a huge part of their role is learning; especially early on. Even if they have been in the organisation, or the same department, for some time the context and expectations are very different. They need to learn about their people, the expectations of their manager, the strategy of the organisation/department and how their team fits into all of this. They need to learn who they can lean on for support (outside of their immediate supervisor) and other key stakeholders within and outside of the organisation that can help them to get things done. The worst thing a new leader can do is to come in all blazing and knowing everything – this approach will alienate everyone! The only exception I can think of that this approach would be tolerated is if there is an urgent turnaround required; however, even with this urgency of action, there should also be an urgency of learning, communication and support from management. It’s dangerous to tear down a fence before understanding why it was erected in the first place.
Coupled with the openness to learn is the need for humility; I lacked both of these traits early in my leadership career and I (and my team!) suffered because of it. So, if you find yourself in a new leadership role, and you’re feeling a little out of your depth, don’t fake it until you make it, recognise that you are learning and with learning naturally comes mistakes and with mistakes comes the opportunity to humbly correct them.
A huge part of proactive learning is to seek out feedback. Don’t be shy about asking your boss for feedback and help in developing your leadership skills. These don’t happen overnight and I don’t know of any successful leader who hasn’t made a few mistakes along the way. Both your ability to seek out candid feedback and, more importantly, your ability to act on that feedback sends a powerful message; it will enhance your credibility, not only with your manager, but also with your team.
Lastly, don’t restrict your focus to learning the hard skills (the technical side of your role), this is the easy part. The higher you go in an organisation the more your soft skills will come to the fore; now is the time to start practicing these; skills such as, cultural and political diagnosis, negotiation, team building, cross-team building, and conflict management. Formal training and coaching can be a huge help in these early stages of leadership and even the transition from one leadership role to the next. Seek it out. In these challenging times we need all the help that is available to us.
If you’d like to know more about how to achieve more as an individual or as a team, or if you’d like to explore how coaching can help you become a better leader (of others or yourself!), or even if you’re just generally curious about what professional coaching can offer you, please contact us at any time for a free consultation.
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