Three Things New Leaders Must Remember

It’s nearly spring in the U.S., and the nation’s professional baseball teams are already busy preparing for the season to start. It’s a time of relaxed joy and performance pressure for them – an interesting paradox. I always wonder which new player will ascend to a leadership role on the team.

There’s a similar paradox in business. Promotion from a functional role to a leadership role is viewed as an achievement and a departure to strange unknown world.

Why don’t all new, eager leaders succeed? A quick Google search for “reasons managers fail” returned 54,800,000 links to articles, books, videos, blogs, slide shows, podcasts, and so on.

However, the advice is all over the map, ranging from prescriptive (e.g., “meet with your people regularly”) to esoteric (e.g., “embody your vision”), and it is often contradictory, confusing, or just plain unhelpful. I can imagine the anxiety of a new leader looking for advice only to find blog after blog and article after article listing the five, eight, ten, or even TWENTY reasons managers fail.

Time out! Something seems very wrong viewing the world of leadership in this way. Imagine if we sent our kids to little league baseball practice having told them all the reasons preventing young baseball players from making it in the major leagues. That would be cruel, counterproductive, and a huge waste of energy, right?

Let’s focus on the positive and then a few basics. First, keep in mind why you as a new leader would read this blog – because you’re a new leader! You got the job! Clearly, you’re already quite good at what you do, and others have recognized it.  So, focus on the joyful achievement of this opportunity. Yes, it will be exhausting, and it can also be personally rewarding.

Now, a few basics you must remember before you start searching Google for your plan:

1. Your Voice Is Louder

When I became president of a small business many years ago, I noticed that each time the team got together to celebrate someone’s birthday, there would be NO singing. It was weird, but I thought it was how the culture evolved. After about a year, I asked our office manager if we were going to sing at the next party. “No!” she said. “You said you don’t like it when people sing to you.” She had implemented a no-singing rule for our office celebrations and had been reminding people all along that, “Paul doesn’t like it when we sing.” Wow! I didn’t even remember saying that, and I couldn’t believe she took it so seriously!

When you move from a functional role to a leadership role, you will get more attention. Mostly, that’s good. You want attention so people know to look to you for direction. However, because of the concept of power dynamics, you’re role as leader means what you say has much more impact than you realize. Just remember, your suggestion will sound like a directive, and one off-hand comment can become policy.  Be aware that what you say has significant impact.

2. You’re Bigger than Yourself

Prior to taking the helm of a non-profit organization, I had been harboring some resentment about my salary. However, when I took the top role, I became aware of the financial reality of the organization – and the salaries of everyone in the company. What a wake up call that was! I could no longer justify my poor attitude, and I had to change. I went to the Trustees and asked them to freeze my salary (and give raises to others).  Although I led the organization, I wasn’t the highest paid person – and none of the employees knew about it.

As a manager, you will begin to feel greater responsibility for the emotional and financial well-being of others. This comes from greater social awareness. You will begin to realize that you are no longer “one of the guys/gals.” You are not only working for your own success, but you’re working for the success of the people around you. You have the opportunity and responsibility as a new leader to create an environment where people will thrive.

3. You’re Still You

When I was much younger, a co-worker was promoted to a management role. The Monday after he was promoted, he came to work with a new suit, a new haircut, new glasses, and a new leather briefcase! He walked right past all of us, giving only a nod as he went to his new office.

Don’t be that person. Seriously. Trading in your personality for your imagined leadership persona will come across as inauthentic. It will create a huge rift in your relationships, and it will send a signal that you are leaving them behind. Instead, take up your authority without giving up your identity. Focus on building and maintaining relationships (especially the relationships you’ve already got). You’ll be happier, and you will find yourself with more resources at your disposal to get things done.

If you keep these three things in mind in the spring, you will find yourself leading a great team that’s poised for the playoffs in October!

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