New Leader Tuesday at Management Excellence

New Leader Tuesday focuses specifically on the topics that all of us face as we take on this most difficult of all business challenges…leading others. In addition to this regular blog feature, I’m launching the New Leader e-newsletter.  If you are a new leader or, if you are responsible for new leader development on your team, the content is designed to help support your efforts.

The first year of your first job responsible for others (supervisor, lead, manager) is the early-awkward phase. Your technical or functional expertise and someone’s perception of your potential for leadership got you here. Your as of yet undeveloped or at least under-developed communication and coordination skills are what will carry you forward.

Making the transition to leadership is like suddenly shifting your dominant side from right handed to left handed for all of your major activities. Doable with practice, but darned awkward along the way. You’ll make mistakes…that’s expected. The goal here is to minimize the serious mistakes while accelerating your learning and acclimation.  

A common challenge for early leaders is to gauge how much to manage. Too much and you are micro-managing or even worse, doing your old job through others. The outcome is resentment and frustration over you as a leader, and an unhealthy working environment. No one does their best work for a micro-manager.

The other side of this early leader trap is under-managing. Sensitive to how much you and everyone else hate being micro-managed, and sensitive to not wanting to upset the group dynamics, your brain tells you to step back and let things go. Your brain is wrong. You falsely believe that your hands-off style will be appreciated and admired. Quit thinking about that “Boss of the Year” coffee cup…it’s not coming your way anytime soon with this style.

5 Suggestions for Getting the Management Volume “Just Right”

1. Attitude is Everything. Approach your new role with the Zen form of “Beginner’s Mind,” which embraces an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions.  Your enthusiasm, optimism and desire to support others is a great foundation for building a healthy working culture. And let’s face it, you might be a technical expert, but you are definitely not a management expert. Instead of masking your journey of discovery, embrace it…everyone knows that you are new to this role.

2. Answer the “Why?” Your team members need clear context for their work and everyone needs to understand what’s expected of them. I beat this drum a great deal. People (you included) do their best work when they have context for its connection to a bigger picture. For help on this, see my post: Gaining Critical Context for Your Team’s Mission.

3. Learn and repeat often: “How can I help?” As people grow comfortable with you, they’ll have no trouble sharing where the obstacles and barriers are. Help knock those down and you’ll be doing your job.

4. Emphasize Teaching, Not Telling. Your gut will be saying, “tell.” Your gut is wrong. Telling gets the task done, teaching creates sustainable improvement in team and individual performance.

5. Step-In As Needed, but Step Carefully. Things will go wrong and you will have to step in and pitch in…and yes, direct. When you get involved, don’t condescend or accuse. If someone dropped the ball, deal with it in private after the crisis has passed. Never waste a good crisis or problem…they are outstanding opportunities to teach and as a result, strengthen your leadership credibility.

Moving Forward:

When you signed on for the role of leader, everything about how your success will be measured, changed.  Your job is to get the team to the destination, and that doesn’t always involve leading from the front. Learn to modulate your management intensity to the situation. Too much or too little will poison the environment. It’s critical to get it just right. Not easy, but critical.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check our Art’s latest collection: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

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New to leading or responsible for first time leader’s on your team? Subscribe to Art’ New Leader’s e-News.

To talk about a workshop or speaking need, contact Art at via e-mail at art.petty[email protected]