When you work alone you know your work inside-out, you know the expectation at its completion and are willing to put in all the work it involves and then some more. You do this, you do it well and you’re appreciated. Why? Because at an individual capacity, this task is your baby. As a matter of fact, you do anything and everything required to make it a success. It’s all on you – no other person involved, no interferences – maybe the occasional check-ins by the boss. It works well for you, it’s challenging enough, you’re constantly learning and pushing your boundaries. But, all of it changes when you are expected to step up and take a leadership position. You may or may not know where this turn of events will take you. So, here’s a survival kit a.k. advice for first-time leaders.
It’s a metamorphosis for you too. Change is good – it is, after all, the only constant. So, you tell yourself this and take in in your stride (this change, after all, will lead to your growth). The question now is; how do you transition from a confident individual contributor to an equally confident leader (even if there’s a nervous storm building within).
For starters, some baby steps should be a great deal of help for you.
1. Realize that if your organisation thinks you’re ready to lead, they have substantial reasons to think so. Reflect the confidence that they are showing in you.
2. Think of the best leader you know – your current/previous boss. Do an assessment – which specific qualities and actions make this person a good leader? Make a list and imitate them. Fake it, till you make it (but do be selective of these qualities)
3. Speak to another new manager/ leader – understand the challenges faced by them and how they overcame them. This helps you learn from others and avoid making the same mistakes.
4. Prepare your strategy – how do you plan to go about leading your team? Write this down. Have a clear plan. Accept the fact that there will be a lot of changes to this plan. It is not set in stone. Be ready to adapt and improvise.
5. When you speak to your team, share this plan with them. Let them know that you’re working ‘with’ them. Have a ‘we’ mindset not a ‘you and I’ mindset.
6. Gain their trust. This takes time but will go a long, long way. Have conversations at an individual level which does not concern work. Get to know the ‘person’. Get to know what makes each member on your team tick, what motivates them? Praise? Money? Recognition? Ambition?
7. When working on a task, discuss the ‘way ahead’ together. Gain their buy-in. Tell them the importance of the task to each individual, the team and the organisation. Show them the big picture and the role important role played by them.
8. Let go! The biggest challenge during this transition is letting go. You need to trust your team and the fact that they will do a good job with the task delegated to them.
9. Let go, but hold on just enough. How? Communication is key; over-communicate if required. Be fully aware of what each one is doing, guide when needed, a little nudge if they are lacking and lots of appreciation when things go right. But, let them do the work, don’t do the work for them.
10. Celebrate small wins. It leaves each one feeling happy and motivated.
11. Lastly, don’t forget the power of feedback and that too lots of it! This works in four ways:
a) From you to your team members
b) From your team members to you – most important
c) From your boss to you
This 360-degree feedback helps you develop as a leader. It tells you what you’ve done right, you’ve done wrong and what you can do better. This way you become a leader who is aware of both your team and yourself.
Slowly but surely, you’ll find that you get the hang of it and things will make sense. You move from your solitary bubble to being a part of a well-oiled machine. This transition involves constant learning – of your team, the task and most importantly yourself.
Playing the role of a leader for the first-time means that I am still in the transition phase and these have been my observations and learnings. Hopefully, they help you too.