The number one problem first-time leaders face is failing to understand that leading requires entirely different strengths than does doing or managing. We've all experienced first-time managers who come in with guns blazing. They think they can be successful by doing more of what they were doing before and telling others to do the same.
When Gillian first started her role as manager she did exactly this. She assumed the best way to get people to buy in to her ideas was to prove that she was capable. So she went off in all directions, trying to change processes, marketing plans, new product lines. It wasn't long before she realized that not only was this not working, it wasn't sustainable. She needed to be strategic, and most importantly, patient.
The reason telling others to do things can be sub-optimal is that telling diminishes. At best people comply with the teller's direction. This is why more experienced managers persuade and support. Great leaders go one step further to co-create a purpose-driven future with their followers.
This leads to the three things first-time leaders should know:
- Leading is different than managing. Where managing is about organizing, coordinating and telling, leading is about inspiring and enabling and co-creating. Great leaders can also do and tell when needed, but they focus on inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose.
- Taking over as a leader for the first time is a critical, career-defining moment. Getting this transition right accelerates your career trajectory. Avoiding avoidable mistakes at this juncture requires preparation, commitment, and follow-through.
- Focus on the cause. People follow charismatic leaders for a time. But they devote themselves over time to the cause of a BRAVE leader who inspires and enables them in the pursuit of that cause. BRAVE leaders have the courage to accept that leadership is not about them, but rather about working through behaviors, relationships, attitude, values and the environment to inspire and enable others.
Call them what you want: moments of truth, moments of opportunity, moments of impact. Whatever you call them, leadership and life itself is a series of them. Whether planned, unplanned, seen, unseen, known, or unknown, they go by in a flash. This is especially true for first-time leaders in their first interactions with their new team members, their first tough decisions, their first hires, fires, failures, and successes.
To capture those moments, to take full advantage of those opportunities, engage with the prelude ahead of the moment, the moment of impact itself, and the follow-through after the moment. The BRAVE leadership framework applies. During the prelude, think through environment (where to play), values (what matters and why), and attitude (how to win). This sets you up for the moment of impact and relating to others (how to connect). Then follow through to ensure all focus on those few behaviors with the greatest impact (what impact).
Leaders are defined by their followers. The only way to achieve your vision, in line with your values, in the context you choose, is through the attitude, relationships, and behaviors you model and engender in your followers. It's not about you. It's about your cause. It's not enough to have compliant followers, doing what they must. It's not even enough to have contributing followers. You need followers committed to a deserving cause. Be BRAVE yourself and help them be BRAVE individually and together in a winning BRAVE culture.
[Note this piece is partly extracted and partly adapted from the executive summary of George's new book, First-Time Leader.]