Six Truths About Leadership That Every New Leader Should Know
Are we doing enough to set up our newest leaders for success? Sadly, in my experience across a broad range of organisations, industries and countries, the answer is no.
Time and again, I find myself in front of leaders who have had little or no development, support or coaching in what it means to be a leader, or how to approach this critical role. The result is often confusion, frustration, anxiety, and sometimes even fear.
Interestingly, we wouldn’t appoint an Engineer, with no prior engineering experience, and ask them to get stuck in. Yet we commonly seem to take this approach with first time leaders.
New leaders need support, guidance and development right from the first day in the new job (or preferably even earlier) if we want to stop our emerging leaders burning out, leaving leadership altogether, or just plain turning into poor leaders.
As a starting point, here are six basic leadership truths we see tripping inexperienced leaders up every day. Wouldn’t it have been great if someone had told us this stuff on day one?
1. The “Leadership” aspect of my role is different to, and every bit as important, as the “Management” aspect of my role
“Management” and “Leadership” are often confusing terms for emerging leaders, who get busy with the tasks of organising and instructing daily activities, but never recognise the need to take a step back and think holistically about their teams – Are people inspired and engaged? Do they understand the purpose of the organisation and the part they play within the wider strategy? Are they being developed? Etc.
Great leaders understand that time needs to be prioritised and protected to allow them the headspace to work ON the business, not just IN it. Organisations can help by making this a clear expectation for all of their leaders, (as a minimum that’s anyone with direct reports folks) hence giving permission to new leaders who are unsure about the ‘legitimacy’ of spending time in this way.
2. Every Interaction Counts
We’ve all had times as team members, where we look back at our behaviour and think “NOT my proudest moment!” What great leaders understand is that when a person becomes a leader, these situations suddenly have far wider-ranging consequences, from damaging trust and credibility to harming relationships and in some cases, people. As a leader, every single interaction we have counts. Luckily, what great leaders also understand is that nobody gets it right 100% of the time – it’s what you do in that other small percentage of “not cool” moments that counts. So what do great leaders do? As soon as they realise their mistake, they own it, take responsibility, offer a genuine apology where it’s appropriate and put it right. The trust that is built from a leader saying “I’m sorry, I got it wrong” is significant and long-lasting.
3. My team cannot read my mind
All leaders have certain expectations of their team members. It might be to “be curious” or to “own mistakes” or to simply turn up on time. Now here’s a question for every leader out there – how do your people know, specifically, what your expectations are? Around 95% of leaders we pose this question to realise that they do nothing to clearly communicate their expectations to their teams. So then the next question becomes – if your people don’t know, specifically, what your expectations are, is it fair to expect them to be followed?
Great leaders make their expectations extremely clear – regularly. There are many ways leaders can do this. As a starting point, running a session where the whole team develops a set of expectations or “ground rules” for the team is a powerful way of getting everyone on board, and therefore everyone buying in. It’s a simple session that may take you an hour, but has massive payback. Not only is everyone clear on expected and acceptable behaviours, but team members will often pull each other up once all have agreed. No more mind reading required!
4. I will not grow to love tough conversations
Addressing poor behaviour through timely, honest conversations with team members is for most, one of the worst aspects of being a leader. There are many reasons for this, ranging from fear of conflict, wanting to be “the good guy’, to being worried about making things worse or having the person quit.
Here’s the truth of the matter – virtually nobody likes having these conversations. That’s right, not even the best leaders out there. You will not grow to love tough conversations. You will however, learn to get more comfortable with them as your experience and skills grow.
Where we see many leaders go wrong, is that they allow poor behaviour to go unchecked for too long. This can have disastrous effects on the team, productivity and the leader themselves, eroding credibility and confidence. As much as you can think of a million other things you’d rather do today, nipping that behavioural issue in the bud with a clear and honest discussion as early as possible will save a much larger headache down the track.
5. I cannot do it alone
One of the most beneficial aspects of a healthy leadership culture, is where leaders support, coach and help other leaders. If there are other leaders in your organisation, there is no reason to ‘go it alone’. Whatever leadership issue, challenge or nightmare you might be facing, you can just about bet that someone else has been there. Ask around, find that person and get their help. Tough conversations is a great example of where this is useful. If you’re nervous about having a particular conversation, find another leader you can trust and talk it through. Even try a dummy-run.
Leadership is tough, it’s draining, it’s demanding and sometimes it’s really stressful. Finding other leaders around you that can offer support, and who in turn you can offer support to, can make an incredible difference. They say that leadership is lonely, but it does not have to be!
6. My own oxygen mask goes on first
Leaders carry a heavy burden of responsibility for the wellbeing of their people. What they often fail to recognise, is that if they’re not in the best state they can be in, they do a disservice to their teams. A team looks to its leader to give them strength and confidence in the future, especially when times are tough or uncertain. If a leader is struggling themselves, this can quickly erode confidence across the team, both in the future and in the leader. In worst cases, roles become reversed and team members feel they need to take care of the leader.
Therefore, a key attribute of any great leader, is that they understand how to look after themselves, and they take the time to do it. What works will differ for every leader. For some it’s making quality time for family and/or an exercise regime, making sure to eat healthily, take regular breaks and holidays, work on their resilience or mindfulness through meditation etc. Find what works for you and build it into your everyday routine. Then have the discipline to stick to it, because when you don’t have time for it is when you’ll need it the most!
None of this is rocket science. Yet these are the areas we see falling over or creating pain for leaders all the time. Give your new leaders the best start possible by instilling these leadership truths along with a healthy dose of ongoing development, support and coaching. The investment of your time will be paid off ten-fold by your fabulous new leaders.
If you need help with your organisation’s leadership capability, feel free to get in touch.