“What leaders do first”
If you have recently been promoted to a position of leadership in your company, congratulations. Now the hard work begins.
The tough part is figuring out what it means to be a leader-which is not just doing more of what you’ve done in the past. In the universe of newly appointed leaders, most get these promotions because they’re good at the technical parts of their job, not necessarily because they’re leadership material. In fact, most people are clueless about the new skills they need to be a good leader. So they do more of what they did well that got them their promotion in the first place.
“No one has explained that their primary responsibility has shifted from doing to helping others do,” says Chris Clarke-Epstein, author of 78 Important Questions Every Leader Should Ask and Answer.
So one of the first things to do as a brand new leader is to figure out what leadership means to you. Most people can identify what they don’t want to be like as a leader, having experienced plenty bad ones. But what characteristics did someone you admire have?
Epstein suggests identifying the best leader in your company and asking this person to describe their view of leadership and how they developed it. It’s possible there aren’t any good role models in your company. So look around outside your organization.
Then ask yourself what leadership means and identify behavior and attitudes you want to develop. Do you want to be seen as influential, caring, persuasive, empathetic, ethical, fair or innovative? How will you demonstrate these traits? What activities will you be involved in to exemplify these qualities? How will you translate that into messages you deliver?
You may not have a lot of time before needing to put your new leadership skills into practice. One of my clients had only been in her new role a few weeks when rumors of a layoff were flying around and people began showing up in her office asking, “Is my job safe?”
She was tempted to say, “Don’t worry, everything is fine.” But she knew she’d by lying. She hated when her boss did that. So she decided to deal with it in a staff meeting by bringing up the concern, instead of ignoring it.
She also realized her job now was to help people stay focused and committed to their work in an uncertain time.
The first smart thing she did at this meeting was acknowledge people’s fears. She didn’t try to sidestep the fact that this was an emotional issue for them. This helped staff see her for the empathetic and caring leader that she wanted to be.
She didn’t try to hide the possibility that there could be layoffs due to the tough time the company was going through. She said that nothing was certain at this point-which it wasn’t-and explained that she’d share what she could as soon as she could, again acknowledging, “I know this is a difficult and uncertain time.”
People may not have liked the message. But they appreciated her sensitivity, openness about her position and promise to keep communicating-which she also did.
This new leader had just begun to think about how she wanted to be seen and behave. By meeting her most difficult challenge head-on, she was on her way to developing a reputation as a sincere, professional and caring leader.