If you’ve ever been promoted from within your team, you’ll know that this life ‘gift’ can bring some tricky challenges.
Interestingly though, the biggest battles are the ones you have with yourself, inside your own mind. Let’s chat about how to establish yourself in your new leadership role…
So, congratulations you’ve been promoted! This means more pay (yay!), more responsibility (you’re ready, right?) and quite possibly more hours (OK, you knew that already).
What you didn’t bargain for are the internal, mental struggles you’re now experiencing about how to lead a team that you were having Friday beers with last week. It can be a challenging time transitioning from being ‘one of the team’ to ‘leader’ of the team. They say it’s lonely at the top, and they weren’t kidding. Suddenly you’ve got to set standards, translate strategy and plans into work deployment for your team, build and maintain a constructive culture and address people’s behavioural slip-ups that you formerly might have laughed off. And by the way, your team now expect you to have all the answers, make fair and quick decisions and make sure you have their back when things go wrong.
Feeling your heart rate go through the roof? We get it.
We work with lots of leaders who struggle to separate themselves from their teams as a new leader. Some of the more common problems include establishing a consistent way of leadership that doesn’t default back to being ‘one of the team’ when things go wrong, wanting to be liked by the team, fear of failure as a leader and having your team respect your leadership.
Here are 7 tips for new leaders, that will help you in your early days as a new leader:
1. NEWSFLASH: Leadership is not about YOU. No, really. I repeat: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. We know you’re running some fear-based conversations in your head like ‘what if they don’t follow / like / respect me?’ and ‘how do I tell my old workmates what to do without them ignoring me?’ and other such useless mental chatter. We promise you, this kind of internal talk will lead you directly into the pit of leadership doom. And it’s making leadership all about YOU.
The quickest and most effective way to stop this mentally and emotionally draining internal dribble is to ask: ‘How can I best serve my team in this situation?’. You’ll find that the answers are more likely to be constructive, future-oriented and lead you to engage your team in finding solutions. Asking ‘how can I serve?’ makes leadership about your team, and what THEY need to be effective. It stops the internal mind chatter. And it takes a whole lot of pressure off.
Got it? It’s not about you.
2. Consistency is key. The only thing worse than a consistently, predictably bad leader is an inconsistent, unpredictable one who is Dr Jekyll one day and Mr Hyde the next. Consistency comes from an internal sense of certainty about purpose, how your role fits and the standards of teamwork and behaviour you expect from the team. If you’re unclear on any of that, you’ll struggle to be consistent in your leadership because you’ll be too easily influenced by the wants and whims of your people. Get this sense of internal certainty right and your team will quickly show you how willing they are to meet your expectations.
3. Forget being liked, choose to be respected instead. To lead is to serve. This means we must subordinate our emotional need for being liked by the team to a higher purpose – for example, to grow the team and create satisfying professional experiences through challenging and purposeful work. If you’re worried about being liked, the chances of you maintaining consistent leadership through challenges that see your team stretch and grow aren’t good. Choose being respected over being liked. (But don’t be a horse’s ass, either. We’re just saying.)
4. Set expectations and help your team understand and meet them. As a new leader, your team will be watching – consciously or subconsciously – for signs and symbols of your expectations. Since your team members are unlikely to be mind-readers (managers of clairvoyants excepted), best you chat to them explicitly about what ‘good’ looks like in terms of both work quality and behaviours in the team. Don’t let your team try to guess your standards. Instead, discuss and flesh them out as a group – and even better, ask your team to contribute to an expectation setting exercise, so everyone gets to buy-in to the new team standards.
5. Get your team together. Not just for a chat over morning tea – although that can be a good idea – but to regularly and systematically talk about how they contribute to your organisation’s strategy, how they can take part in planning, to talk explicitly about team mojo, culture and behaviours, and to create structured opportunities for information sharing and team development. If you avoid getting your team together because you’re afraid of how it might go (which makes leadership all about YOU, remember?) – then you’ll forever be managing a set of ‘individuals’. It’s your job to bring your team together… so, go do THAT.
6. You don’t have all the answers (but your team do!). So, your team might expect you to have all the answers now that you’re the ‘boss’, but in reality, you intrinsically know that all the GOLD lives within them. It always has. Becoming the leader doesn’t miraculously make you an overnight authority on all the knowledge required in the team. Instead, develop a coaching style of leadership and help your team to find the answers they already have inside of them by asking smart questions. I repeat, you do not have all the answers. So, take some pressure off and don’t expect this from yourself.
7. Talk about behaviour, not just work. It’s easy to talk about the work to be done (after all, it’s endless), but it can feel a bit icky talking about the standards of behaviour required in the team. We get it. But this is what differentiates you as the leader of the team – the willingness to stand up for your team culture, and to fight (figuratively speaking) for a constructive, respectful and productive work environment. And if you’re not willing to talk about behaviours in the team, then we ask you, who will? Maintaining team mojo and good work behaviours is YOUR responsibility – so get talking about it like it’s a natural part of your job. Because frankly, it is.
Let us know what you think about these strategies! Will you give some of these a try? Let us know in the comments below. And if you’d like a conversation about how you’re tracking in your leadership role, just reach out. We’re here to help.