Many first-time leaders will land a leadership position through secondment, back fill or an internal application process. You are often a top performer that has been able to demonstrate key skills and qualities that managers are looking for. Well Done! Your leadership journey is just beginning.
You may have stepped up in your team or taken on a brand-new one. Either way, you will be expected to jump in and get leading… but if you are like most leaders one of your thoughts will be “Now what? What do I actually need to do?”
The purpose of this post is to provide some guidance on where to start and what to expect. With so much to cover, I have broken it down into two streams: the first being about the team and how to work together to achieve goals, and the second is about you as a new leader and your own development.
Understanding the team dynamic
Whether you step up within your existing team or join a new team, it will be worth taking time to understand the team dynamic, observing how the team members work together, how the tasks are assigned and managed and what each team member is responsible for.
Who are your team members
Take time to learn about your team members and have genuine conversations about who they are, their role, and journey within the business. Through this, you’ll start to learn what motivates them. This won’t come through one interaction but through a number of conversations with them. Ask them what they need from you to be successful in their role and what they see as their strengths and areas of opportunity.
Setting expectations with the team can be uncomfortable, especially if this is the first time you have done so. However, this is a crucial step for success and the benefits greatly outweigh any uncomfortableness you may feel. Setting expectations provides a foundation of understanding for your staff, providing both clarity and a platform to correct undesirable behaviours. Clear expectations lead to improved communication within your team, assisting in overcoming barriers, issues, and challenges that may arise. It provides an opportunity for you and the team to agree upon how you are going to communicate with one another and what you expect of them, them of you and what they expect of each other. Make sure that you document the expectations and save them somewhere easy for the team to refer to. Team Leaders will often refer to the expectations when reviewing performance or during conflict resolution. Gaining buy-in from the team through this process is critical as you want the team to understand the benefits, be engaged, and own the process and outcomes. Expectations can be set during a team meeting but be certain to pre-position the team before the meeting, so everyone is aware of the purpose of the meeting and can come prepared with thoughts to share.
Establish a purpose
As Simon Sinek says, “give people a reason to come to work, not just a place to go to work”. Helping the team understand their purpose is a great way to build a cohesive and motivated team. Work with the team on their purpose, recognising how their role and contributions support the wider organisations goals and purpose.
Establishing this improves engagement and builds a connection to the bigger picture. There have been lots of studies and books written on this connection and its inherent value. Help your team find their place in your organisation and understand the value they create.
Teams and team members appreciate feeling valued. Having a say and contributing to team outcomes is one way to achieve this. When there are changes to be made or an opportunity to seek feedback, take the time to engage the team. Ask for their thoughts and ideas on how the team will work through the changes and/or suggestions on alternatives if there are other possible solutions.
Some leaders will prioritise feedback and periodically seek input from the team on team performance discussing what is going well or what could be done differently. This genuine interest for feedback helps to create a collaborative team.
Your success as a leader is connected to your willingness to learn and develop on your leadership journey. Embracing both the comfortable and uncomfortable moments of leadership and accepting that you won’t have all the answers but being willing to learn is a great way to frame your experience.
Be the role model
The very best leaders are those that carry themselves in a way that makes people want to emulate their actions. The key to successful leadership is demonstrating the behaviours that you expect from your team as well as what they expect of you as a leader. It is your job to lead by example. If you have previously demonstrated behaviours that you aren’t proud of, understand it is never too late to change. Make a conscious decision to set a new standard and hold yourself accountable it.
Be willing to learn
As you commence your leadership journey, you will be on a significant learning curve. In a leadership role, you will quickly accrue a variety of experiences as you will have daily exposure to new and challenging tasks. In addition to this situational learning, you can accelerate your development through other learning mechanisms. There is an endless list of resources for leaders to pour time into: leadership books, TED talks, journal articles, and industry publications are all great places to find resources to help you to build your abilities.
The key to learning is to accept that mistakes are an inevitable, though an important part of learning. Not one of us is immune to making mistakes, it’s what makes us human! How you handle the mistake and setback is what is remembered by your team. There will be occasions where you make the wrong decision, and that is ok – so long as you learn from it and use it as an opportunity to grow. This is what will set you apart from others.
Look to your peer group and management team for additional opportunities to learn. Ask questions to improve your capabilities and understanding. Seek feedback and take on and embrace your development opportunities.
Find a mentor
Another way to build your knowledge and capabilities as a leader is to seek a mentor who can help to coach, guide and challenge you. This can be someone internal or external to your organisation. Having a mentor gives you another discussion forum. These mentor relationships provide a safe environment for you to have open and honest conversations yet also be challenged in your thinking and approach to leadership. Mentor discussions form a unique opportunity to have collaborative and worthwhile discussions, allowing mentors to share their experiences and give practical advice, encouragement, and support.
Leadership is a journey; the best leaders will tell you that they are continually learning about both themselves and the people they lead. Embrace the journey, stay curious, ask questions and take time to reflect on your growth.