Inevitably, being thrust into a leadership position for the first time is hard. There will be moments when you feel inadequate and in over your head. Understanding that “everything” is not part of your job description should help you get to a place where you can prioritize and really hone in on what it is you are there to do.
On Day 1 you need to get comfortable with discomfort. The fact is that the only way to truly learn how to be a leader is by doing it. You can read as many books as you want (and I recommend that you do) but, like driving a car, you need to get a feel for the mechanics of what’s going on. You need to get real life exposure to the wide variety of situations you’ll encounter before you can expect to be an expert.
The two keys to working your way into being a successful first time leader, as I see them are: competence and influence. In order to be the kind of manager that most people want to be (one that has their ideas listened to and acted upon) you need to be the kind of person that employees want to listen to, whether they have a superior title or not.
In terms of competence, a new manager needs to demonstrate that in this job and this industry, they really know their stuff. However, that doesn’t mean being overly showy about it. It doesn’t mean doing people’s work for them or making a scene of correcting a mistake. It’s really more about knowing when to step in and knowing when to stand back and let others do their job, or even when to ask for help.
In terms of influence, a new manager needs to quickly establish that they are not a power-hungry lone wolf. Influence doesn’t come from a title. It comes from the support that develops when you build strong relationships with people in various positions across the company. Understand that expertise in a leadership role comes naturally with experience.
If you’re drawn to becoming a leader because you believe it will allow you to exercise an increased measure of control over your coworkers and the organization as a whole, I urge you to rethink this position. While you may ultimately “pull the strings” of some of the teams below you, you yourself are now being pulled by much larger organizational strings. Control really should not factor into the decision to take a position in management.
Have you recently taken a new management position? Or, are you looking for a promotion and want to be as prepared as possible? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.