Step Into the Role of a Leader Without Stumbling

Five tips for first-time leaders to get off to a positive start.

October 1, 2012

One of the most common tripping points of first-time leaders is to mistakenly assume they’re the “geocentric center of their team’s universe,” writes Art Petty, leadership consultant, on his “Management Excellence” blog.

“The move from individual contribution—where it’s all about you as the expert and even star—to a role where you’re responsible for the work of others, can be abrupt and awkward, particularly if you don’t have someone coaching or mentoring you,” he says.

He offers five ways first-time leaders can get off to a positive start:

1. Provide context. People do their best work when they’re armed with context for their activities.

Work with your manager to ensure clarity around goals and how achieving them affects the organization and customers. Then work tirelessly to ensure this context flows constantly to your team.

2. Emphasize, “How can I help?” versus “Here’s what I need you to do.” One of your most critical tasks is providing support for your team members. That’s distinctly different from telling them what to do.

3. Give trust to earn trust. Too often, our inclination is to assume that people have to earn our trust by proving themselves. I would rather let them “unprove” themselves. Showcase your trust first by letting people do their jobs.

Don’t micromanage, and don’t lead them to believe they’re on trial and you’re the judge and jury. Good professionals respond well to trust. Deal separately with the rare exceptions who take advantage.

4. Pay attention. This is a powerful way to show you respect them as individuals and as professionals. The wise leader actively listens, asks questions, and strives to understand the input from others.

5. Promote accountability. It’s the rocket fuel for individual and team performance. Set high but reasonable expectations. Expect people to meet their commitments.

If people stumble, challenge them to identify how they’ll improve going forward. Reward and praise those who meet their commitments. Deal fairly with those who don’t.

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