Stepping into a leadership role can be a challenging transition. New responsibilities, more visibility, being under the microscope, greater accountability, and pressure to get results can lead to people feeling nervous and insecure. Often, to counteract these challenges and emotions, leaders tend to assert their dominance, focus on making their mark, implement big changes, and be more directive. Unfortunately, these behaviors end up impacting trust, increase stress, and lower productivity. This makes the transition much more difficult than it needs to be. By avoiding these three mistakes when stepping into a leadership role, you increase your chance of success and making a real impact.
Mistake #1: Quickly Making Changes
When stepping into a leadership role, you may have ideas or a plan for changes they’d like to make right away. Perhaps these ideas worked in previous positions, or you have some “go-to” tools or methods you like. If you’re new to leadership positions, you may have read some books around leadership and want to implement those ideas. Or, you may have heard or seen behaviors, processes, or ideas in the organization that you want to change. The problem is that you’ll end up making changes in a vacuum because you won’t really know what’s going on. Instead, you’ll rely on false assumptions and pre-conceived ideas that may have nothing to do with the current reality or what’s really needed.
How to avoid this mistake: Take time to sit back and observe what’s going on. Be patient and go slow in order to later go fast. Sit in on meetings. Notice interpersonal and team dynamics. Pay attention to both what is working well and what isn’t. You wouldn’t want a doctor to operate on a patient without first doing lots of diagnostics. Similarly, resist making changes until you know what’s really going on.
Mistake # 2: Being Too Directive
When people step into leadership roles, they often take on the role of the boss instead of the role of leader. You may quickly implement new rules, give orders, and make decisions. The issue with this approach is that you’ll end up being the bull in the china shop. You’ll come across as though you know what’s best instead of respecting the wisdom that already exists within the organization.
Relationships are the key to success. The people who work for you have likely been in their roles for some time and have a better understanding of what’s going on than you do. They can provide context and history that can help you connect the dots. They can explain how things work, articulate the interpersonal dynamics within the organization, and give you tips and suggestions. If you come in as the boss, you increase the chance of losing trust and burning bridges. You won’t get buy-in or support for your ideas, and your job will be an uphill battle.
How to avoid this mistake: Build relationships with everyone around you. Assume the people who work in your area know more than you (because they probably do). Just because you’re technically their boss doesn’t mean you need to act like one. Learn about the people and processes around you. Seek instead of telling. Listen to people’s complaints, suggestions, and ideas. Understand why things are the way they are, including the different systems, procedures, and ways of doing things. Be curious about the unique culture in order to best serve and create appropriate changes.
Mistake #3: Trying to Impress
Being in a new role can be vulnerable, especially when the role is more visible. As such, you may want to prove that you deserve to be in the role or get people’s approval. You may want to make a big change or start a new initiative to get people’s attention.
If you’ve avoided the first two mistakes, such moves could be beneficial. If you haven’t, it could cost you trust, respect, and effectiveness. For example, if you are trying to impress the boss by making a splash, your team will likely lose respect and trust for you because they’ll see you as a “posterior-kisser.” If you try to please and appease your team, your boss may also lose respect and trust because they’ll see you as a pushover without the integrity to do the job right. Either way, you end up overcompensating and ultimately pleasing no one, including yourself.
How to avoid this mistake: As a leader, your ultimate responsibility to do what’s best for the organization, not for specific people within the organization. That means being true to yourself while being in service to what will help the organization, including the people within it, thrive.
People may question and second-guess you and your approach. They may not like your plans, decisions, or choices. However, if you’re taking the time to get to know people and the organization, assessing what’s working well and what could be improved, and creating out a unique strategy suited to the organization’s needs, culture, and dynamics, you’ll likely take actions that will be in everyone’s best interest.
The key is to stand strong by pushing back appropriately to leadership should they question your approach and making decisions that serve the team instead of pleasing them. In some cases, this could mean eventually letting people go, cracking down on and eliminating waste, and stopping unproductive behaviors. It could mean saying no to certain things and yes to others. It could mean taking people through uncomfortable change. Impress yourself by reflecting upon what’s right and doing what you believe is in the organization’s best interest (which typically will also serve the people within the organization).
Stepping Into a Leadership Role
Note that all of these mistakes relate to each other. Jumping in by trying to impress people, making changes, and telling everyone what to do is a recipe for disaster. Doing so will erode trust, strengthen resistance, and drain your energy.
Avoiding all three mistakes requires patience, observation, and people. By coming in with an open mind, a sense of curiosity, and a willingness to build relationships, you’ll increase your chance of success. The changes, decisions, and strategies you do implement, whether large or small, will be much more effective and sustainable. And, you’ll likely get the respect and impact you wanted in the first place.