7 Critical Things You Need to Know as a New Leader

It often hits newly promoted managers hard. That splash in the face realization that this new world of guiding others isn’t a walk in the park. And If you’re reading this, maybe that splash feels more like a tidal wave.

People are wonderfully complex, unique, and emotional. And as leaders, as we move away from managing tasks and projects to coaching and guiding others, it's shocking to learn that the skills that are required of us now bear little resemblance to the ones that got us here.

And the pressure to be good at this is real. You’re in this position because someone thinks you’re a superstar, trusts you, and is counting on you to develop more superstars with the kind of superstar results that you’ve had.

The hard truth is that many companies put incredibly talented people just like you in positions just like this where they are responsible for leading others...and they struggle. They struggle because they haven’t been equipped with the skills they need to lead their team. And they get frustrated, which leads to stress, burnout and an inability to deliver the results that they and those who promoted them were hoping for. I know this is true because I’ve been there. Maybe you’re there right now. The thing that may just set you apart is that you’re reading this, so you’re self aware enough to know you need help.

You’re undoubtedly smart enough to know you won’t find everything you need to know in a single blog, book or course. And a lot of what you’ll learn will come from the school of hard knocks. But here are seven essentials to get you started.

1. Managing/Leading People is a Skill 

Let’s not spend time defining the difference between management and leadership, if you are responsible for people there is no difference, the people you manage need to be led. And yes, there are those rare people for who management of people just comes naturally, they listen, spend time with their teams, motivate them, reward them, are tough with them, mentor them and praise them. But for most of us there is a trail of failures and stories of how we learned to be better by living through the carnage of our own bad decision making.

I’ve spent over twenty years managing and leading people and I still make mistakes, learn and evaluate what I could have done better working with my team. If you are a new to leading people or are on the path to improve how you manage others, this is key … you have to constantly work on this skill.

2. Leading Others May Be The Most Important Thing You Do in Your Life 

Think this sounds melodramatic? It’s not. For a number of different reasons. If you are given the honour of taking care of other people’s careers as part of what you do every day, the impact you have on the world is incredible. Think that how you lead your team stops at your team members? Think again. Every action you take or don’t take, every word you say, has an impact on each individual. They talk to their families and friends about what happened at work every day...as their manager, you play a central role in that narrative. You motivate or demotivate them, you impact their health and their happiness and that of their families based on how you choose to lead them.

3. Words Matter 

You can’t unsay something and your team can’t unhear it. Particularly if you are delivering news that isn’t rosey, be sure to think through how you want the message to be heard and the impact you want it to have. One of the things I do religiously if I’m going to be talking about something sensitive, is to say it outloud several times to myself. Then I imagine myself as the listener and think of how that might be received. It’s a good way to judge if you’re including too little or too much additional information in the message. If you can practise with someone you trust, even better.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be truthful and honest...even brutally honest sometimes. The concept of Radical Candor that was coined by Kim Scott few years back is powerful...give the book a read if you haven’t.

4. Asking Questions is More Important than Providing Answers

Even when you know the answer, asking questions helps you understand where someone else is coming from. Their past experience, background and expertise all inform the decisions they are making and understanding their perspective can provide insights you didn’t consider. While you’re in a leadership position because you’ve achieved some level of success, to be successful leading others it’s important to recognize you’ll be learning from them as much as leading them.   And while this isn’t just a people management skill, it’s an essential part of being a good leader and will help you grow.

*Important note….the tone of questioning should be genuine, not redundant. Don’t question thinking you know the better answer. That’s just irritating and condescending.

5. Commit to Doing What You Say

If your team can’t rely on what you say, you’ll lose their trust and respect. That’s not to say that you have to be perfect. But on the rare occasion that you can’t meet a commitment, be open and honest and ask for forgiveness. There will always be more things that we are hoping to do than we possibly can accomplish, get really good at communicating the ones you can achieve.

6. Learn the Stuff You Need to Know

If you don’t know how to do something, figure it out. If you are finding getting people on board difficult, take control of what you need to work on. Read a book, watch a video, talk to someone you admire, don’t … whatever you do don’t...rely on someone else to figure this out for you. If you’re finding people management difficult, you’ll continue to do so until you take charge and figure out what you’re doing wrong.

7. Put in the Time and Be Present

Nothing will be more important to your success than building trusting relationships with the people on your team. Whether you’re leading a team of one or a team of many, you need to carve out time for regular one-on-one conversations - the frequency you’ll need to work out for yourself, I like weekly. During those connection points (meetings, coffee breaks...whatever form they take), make that person your focus. Really listen. And as per point 5, don’t cancel those meetings.

You’ll likely have some hard lessons coming your way, leading is an emotional journey as much as it is a skill. And it’s not easy. But I’m guessing you got here because you eat easy for lunch. Hard work is so rewarding...and when it involves both your growth and the growth of the amazing team you’re building, you’ve really hit the jackpot.   

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