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Challenges for New Leaders

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By Keith Barnwell


“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” – Kenneth Blanchard

As a professional leadership development coach, I frequently work with individuals who have recently been promoted into management positions. They may have demonstrated great technical knowledge and skills, and as a “reward” for performing admirably in their job, they have been promoted into a managerial position. Unfortunately, the well-deserved promotion all too often comes without the appropriate leadership or management training. The results can be disastrous for the newly promoted manager as well as the team and ultimately the company.

If you are a new manager or find yourself in a leadership position for the first time, I’ve put together the following list just for you:

It’s perfectly natural to feel insecure ~ Regardless of how well they may hide it, everyone feels insecure when taking on a new role or responsibility. It is perfectly natural to feel apprehensive when doing something new, particularly when you have a team of people looking to you for guidance. Accept that things have changed and give yourself sufficient time to develop and grow into your new role. Understand that you will make errors, just ensure that you learn valuable lessons from each setback.

Don’t feel as though “the leader” should know everything ~ You are not going to have all the answers, nor are you expected to. Ask for help and get advice, particularly from those with more experience than you. It’s not just ok, it’s what is expected from good leaders!

Don’t try to be everyone’s friend ~ This is particularly challenging when you have been promoted from within. It can be more challenging to hold robust conversations with your former peers, but it is vital that you transition appropriately from peer to leader. It is possible to maintain previous relationships, however you should expect the nature of the relationship to change.

Master the art of upward management ~ Managing upward is an essential skill that takes time to develop. To succeed in your new role, you must be able to manage the expectations of those above you. This occasionally requires the courage and confidence to say ‘no’ when necessary. Remember that you are now responsible for the output and well-being of your team and that includes managing their workload.

Avoid the urge to micromanage ~ Clearly you know how to perform the technical aspects of the job better than most; that’s probably why you were promoted.  But your job has changed, and you now need to focus on developing the abilities of your team. Learn to trust in your people and delegate effectively. Be sure to build in additional time to allow your team a margin for errors while they are learning new skills.

Avoid perfectionism ~ It’s natural for you to feel as if you are under scrutiny and feel pressured to make everything perfect. Striving for excellence is healthy, as long as you remain realistic in your expectations. Focus your efforts on getting to know your team; their strengths and areas that need development. Be prepared to coach and mentor them towards improved performance.

Strive to develop self-awareness ~ Self-awareness is an essential component of good leadership. A self-aware leader has clarity about their personal and professional values and how they actively reflect these values in every aspect of their leadership style. It takes time and self-reflection for any leader, even those who are well established, to develop self-awareness, and it can be especially challenging for those new to the role. Be prepared to ask for more feedback, and listen to it!

Don’t be afraid to fail ~ New leaders are often afraid of making a wrong decision, and this fear may result in avoiding or delaying a necessary action. Good leadership requires prompt, decisive action. Be prepared to make an informed decision and if it turns out to be the wrong one, then examine your decision and learn from it.

Remember your team is made up of individuals ~ Never lose sight of the fact that the people that you manage are all very different. Take the time to get to know each of them and understand how they are motivated, and identify the most effective management style to get the best results both individually and collectively.

Avoid favouritism ~ Face it, we are all human and it’s hard not to have favourites.   But if you want to be a good manager or leader, you must learn to avoid any obvious signs of favouritism amongst your team. Favouritism causes friction when the “non-favourites” feel excluded and ultimately resentful.   As a leader, you must be scrupulously fair at all time when dealing with your team and make an effort to treat each one equally and with respect.

Always lead by example ~ You must remember that as a leader, you are now responsible for creating the right environment in which your team can work most effectively. Never forget that it is what you do, not what you say, that matters. Your behaviour will have a direct effect on the people around you.

Give back ~ At some stage you will become an experienced leader. Never forget these difficult and frightening days, and use your own personal experience to help mentor and develop the next generation of leaders.

Thank you for reading and please share this post with others who you think may find it helpful.

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This is an extract from the LeaderFocus App for the iPad available on iTunes.  To learn more and to download the LeaderFocus App click on the icon.  Keith Barnwell is a leadership development specialist and executive coach at It’s All About Leadership