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When Managers Become Leaders

Managers who make the transition to team leader for the first time can be pretty shocked at what hits them. The whole point about leading is that they are leading people and any amount of leadership development or training can only go so far in preparing them for their first role. The management skills they excelled at and probably got them noticed for entry into leadership will be useful to some degree but they need to develop their own leadership qualities quickly in order to perform effectively in their new role.

To assist in their transition from Manager to Leader each individual should look at the following areas and put in place a plan that works for them.

Reflect on own experiences

It doesn’t matter that this is the person’s first formal position when they are recognized as a leader. There will have been many occasions in their lives both in work and at home when they have been leading to some degree or other. What might at first appear to be trivial as an example of ‘leadership’ can, if reflected upon, yield some interesting perspectives. The New Leader should do just that – reflect on when they led on something, even going back to when they were at school, and consider what went well (and why), what didn’t go so well (and why) and what didn’t seem to matter to anyone at all. If enough time is taken to think these through quite a list of experiences can be generated and reflected upon.

The other aspect the New Leader should think about is what it is that they have appreciated when working for others in the past. They should consider also how the leaders they respected and worked well with dealt with different types of individuals. Again, this can be enlightening and should be thought through by the New Leader. Not so they can copy them but so they can start to understand just how different people respond to different styles of leadership.

Ask their team what they need

Knowing what you think others need isn’t always the same as what they actually need and this is an area where New Leaders can have problems. They often think that they’ve been put in a position of leadership because they know lots and can be relied upon to ‘get the job done’. Unfortunately that isn’t the same as you and your team getting the job done together. It’s possible to figure out over a period of time what individuals need and expect but it’s far easier to ask them up front. Questions along the lines of ‘What do you need from me to help you do your job?’ will illicit some interesting responses, not all of which may be positive but at least the New Leader will start to understand their team.

Difficulties can understandably arise when the New Leader has been promoted from within the team they now need to lead. It can be difficult for both sides and there is the possibility of resentment from those who weren’t chosen. In this situation absolute honesty is the key. The New Leader must explain that they recognize the awkwardness of the situation and they know how teamwork used to be when they were all equal team-members. Now, it’s different but teamwork still needs to continue with the New Leader asking for assistance to ensure everyone can move forward.

Be on the watch

Far too often New Leaders believe that to justify their position they need to make a significant impact and quickly. Such thinking is not restricted to novice leaders unfortunately. Unless there is a crisis or it’s a turnaround situation by far the best approach is to take time to see just how things operate. Whether it’s 90 or 100 days it doesn’t matter, as long as the New Leader consciously considers each and every aspect of how their team operates, interfaces with other parts of the business and with customers. Only then should any changes be made, and only if they are really needed.

Meet with key players regularly

The New Leader needs to meet with their key or most senior team members on a regular basis. Of course, everyone in a team is key to its success so taking the opportunity to talk to everyone in an open forum is essential, for real if possible or virtually if needed. In this way the New Leader ensures that everyone knows just where they are coming from and what they expect. Weekly or monthly meetings with key staff allows for that understanding to deepen and a strong working relationship to build.

Meet with key clients regularly

Just as it’s important to build relationships internally it’s just as important to build them externally. This could be with clients/customers, suppliers or other parts of the business in which they work. Each and every one of them needs to be considered a client since there will be an interaction between the two groups that has to work seamlessly. For example, a supplier needs to fully understand what they are to deliver and it’s the New Leader’s team who must ensure they specify that correctly. By meeting with these key ‘stakeholders’ early on the New Leader has the opportunity to pick up on any pre-existing difficulties or glitches that perhaps have been overlooked or compensated for in the past.

Work with a coach

There may be opportunities to undertake leadership development programs or leadership training courses. These will take time and to get the most from them the New Leader needs to gradually implement what they have learnt. Some form of mentoring from within the business could be a possibility and each and every team leader will have someone that they report to. That person may or may not be willing or capable of providing assistance to the New Leader – it very much depends upon their own leadership style as well as the pressures they are under to deliver. This is where coaching can be invaluable as it is outside of the performance reporting loop and can concentrate on helping the manager transition into an accomplished leader. There are pros and cons to having coaches that are internal within the business or brought in from outside and each have their merits. Either way, the focus needs to be fixed on assisting the competent Manager starting on the journey to becoming an equally competent Leader.

Copyright © 2010 Paul Slater