Be a new leader, not an old doer

“What got you here won’t get you there”Marshall Goldsmith

The trials of being a new supervisor are many. Some new leaders have all their former colleagues now reporting to them. They have received little, if any, training to be a leader; while they are experts and know the specific job inside out, they have no idea of what it takes to get others to perform at their own high level. And they love doing “it,” but that love diminishes when trying to get others to do the same.

At entry level, 90% of job performance is a direct result of individual effort. As people advance through the leadership track, 90% of their results will probably come from what they are able to get done through others. I have a friend who heads up a very technical part of a large company. His education and much of his early career were based on engineering expertise. Today, he has over 200 engineers working for him. When I asked him how much of his day-to-day required an engineering degree, he almost laughed. The point is, job knowledge does not equal an ability to be an effective manager or possess people skills. It is a distinctly different skill set and needs to be acquired if the leadership career track is to continue in a positive direction. Whether it is moving from salesperson to sales manager, line worker to supervisor, or from clerical staff to office manager, here are three hurdles that need to be jumped if a successful transition is to take place.

  1. Old habits — Many, many habits that equate to success as a worker will do exactly the opposite in a leadership role. For example, you are a newly promoted leader and one of your direct reports has a problem with a certain process or program. Rather than get that individual involved in slowly going through the process and training the person how to do it, you quickly show them how to do it and walk away, assuming that they have just digested all your great expertise. Even worse, you just do it because it takes less time than going through the whole darn thing with the person — WRONG! One of the many responsibilities of a leader is to build people and make them successful. You do not do that by doing “it.” You do that by coaching others to do “it.”

    Another habit, especially if the new leader was a star in the previous role, is the need to be the star in the new leader role. WHOA! The new habit is to build stars, not to be the star. Quite a change. The list of old habits to let go of and new habits to instill goes on and on.

  2. Training — It never ceases to amaze me how many organizations assume that the person who does the job (whatever it is) exceptionally well, will make an ideal manager for the same job. An incredible number of new leaders are just tossed into the leadership role with little, if any, training. Not only is this not fair to the new leader, think of the negative impact on those new direct reports! Whether it is an internal, structured approach or using an external resource, you owe it to the new leader to provide the necessary tools for the new job.
  3. From black and white to gray — Even with a solid training regimen and sound coaching from their own superiors, many new leaders just cannot let go. The biggest hurdle is leaving the old comfort zone and moving into unfamiliar territory. For example, how do I get all my former buddies to respect me in my new role? Do I have to give up a friendship to be an effective leader? There is not a black and white answer to these questions and gray is often the only color involved. As one of my class participants said a few weeks ago, “Dealing in the land of gray is not easy. However, you must be good at it or you will never grow as a leader.”

If a new leader is to become a real leader, he or she must both recognize and take the necessary steps to leave the world of doing behind, and walk down the new path of effective leadership, even if it is a bit gray.

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