Tips for New Leaders

Leadership means triple responsibility and triple opportunity

The first recorded outbreak of Syphilis was in 1494 in Europe. Before modern medicine and all of its advances, Syphilis was one of the worst diseases.

It started with a single bump (non-itchy skin ulceration)  from where the pathogen ate its way through the tissue until you could see bones through the open wounds.

Repulsive, unimaginable, gruesome, and incredibly painful.

Since the Renaissance, Syphilis had many different names. In Poland, they called it "German disease."

In Italy, as the first recorded outbreak has been recorded during a French invasion, it was known as the “French disease.” The French called it “Italian disease.” However, Russia referred to it as “Polish disease.”

A plethora of names for the same bacteria, the same symptoms.

Every country had a different scapegoat; the only thing everyone agreed on was, "It wasn't us."

If you prefer to listen to the audio version, find it HERE

Playing the blame game

"The salespeople game me wrong forecasts."

"August is always slow."

"You cut my budget."

"Apple launched a new phone."

It would be weird if Russia referred to Syphilis as the “Russian disease” and Americans called it “American disease.” That's not how we operate.

If we can blame someone else, we can sit back and relax — no need for taking action.

However, if we raise our arm and calmly say, “It is my responsibility, hold me accountable,” we accept that the situation is our problem. Solving it requires us to act.

New role – a new mindset

Especially if they take on their first leadership role, some new leaders ask themselves, “What am I doing here?” “What is leadership?”

I sometimes come across people who receive a promotion without actively pursuing it. For them, leading is an additional task that they'll add to their existing task list.

Often they received the promotion because they were the best at what they're doing (you see that especially frequently in the sales profession. The most successful salesperson becomes the sales manager, which requires an entirely different set of skills.)

Being good at something doesn't equal being good at teaching others how you do it.

To be an excellent leader, first, we have to understand what leadership means. In the second step, you should check in which areas additional training is needed to fulfill the leadership responsibilities.

Triple responsibility of leaders

Who is responsible if your team or company fails? You are.

Here is some basic information new leaders might find useful:

You have a triple responsibility and, therefore, triple opportunity:

  • Responsibility for your company
  • Responsibility for yourself
  • Responsibility for your staff

Responsibility towards your company

When you accept responsibility for a team or division, you take on responsibility for the company.

Your decision to accept the role means: I will take care that the area I overlook will deliver results, fulfill their function, and grow.

On the first look, that doesn't sound different from what you would have done as an employee without disciplinary responsibility. That's why you received that promotion/job.

However, the difference is that defining success as your personal outstanding performance isn't sufficient anymore. Now, your focus is to make sure that your team delivers excellent results.

That requires a shift of mindset.

Some say, “Well, that doesn't apply to my scenario. I am still in charge of the responsibilities of my old role and need to achieve my personal goals.”

Yes, especially the team and group leaders often wear two hats. However, leading has to be your “main hat.”

In your new leadership role, leading is your primary responsibility.

If you've been newly appointed and perhaps didn't even ask for it, it's seductive to lose yourself in “everyday business” and neglect your leadership responsibilities.

However, leading is your everyday business now.

There are several reasons why some new leaders chose to focus on their personal goals. Besides the obvious ones (for instance, that people feel safer doing what they already know,) it could also be a way of avoiding difficult decisions. Painful decisions. Maybe decisions that will impact people you had lunch with for the past six years negatively.

Moreover, it's easy to tell yourself that it's not possible to spend much time on leadership because your active tasks are critical.

However, if someone doesn't fill their role, it creates a vacuum. That applies to leaders just as everyone else.

Delegating is especially hard on some people. “If you want something to be done right, do it yourself,” is a saying as old as it's wrong.

Your responsibility is to organize projects, communication, and tasks so that they function like clockwork.

What that requires depends on the specific environment in your company.

One of the fabulous facts about your new role is: The bigger your area of responsibility, the larger your opportunity to influence change and create.

You have to. You have permission to. You're expected to.

Responsibility for yourself

Now that you are in a leadership role, people will have high expectations. People you report to (if there are any, ) employees, and peers.

  • How you carry yourself
  • Your mindset
  • Your behavior
  • Your skills

One could compare it to throwing a world-class swimmer into a Lucha Libre champion's match and say, “Now show us what you got.”

tips for new leaders
Picture credit: Lucha Underground

Nobody dares to ask, “How does this work?”

Everyone assumes people watched enough wrestling, and it's something you can do on the side—in addition to your other tasks.

No! It's a different game, and you need to learn the techniques and rules. As soon as you stop learning, you regress.

Leadership is a different game than operational work. It's a splendid start that others believe you're cut out for this kind of work. However, it's not enough in itself.

Responsibility for yourself in this context also means

  • Realizing and organizing the range and variety of your roles
  • Analyzing which hard- and soft skills you might be missing
  • Asking for support, resources, coaching, and everything else you need to succeed
  • Admitting to yourself that you're a beginner
  • Developing step by step into your new role

Humility and the ability to reflect honestly are signs of a good leader. Now that you have authority, you will receive less or no critical feedback. Together with a ton of insincere compliments, you have to put effort into keeping a realistic self-image.

Here's a 2-minute read you mind find interesting: The rotten apple

You might face some difficulties in relationships if you have worked at your company before and former peers are now reporting to you. Furthermore, you will have to make difficult decisions that others perceive to be to their disadvantage.

You will possess information you can't share. Maybe you have to change your behavior (i.e., if you used to be undisciplined, the drunk entertainment factor at company parties) and some people will misinterpret your motivation for changing.

A leadership role can feel lonely at first. If you worked in the company before, you will notice that there's a new distance between you and your colleagues. People will treat you differently, and you have to treat them differently.

Former peers you befriended might expect special treatment, favors, or at least inside information. It requires empathy and communication skills to handle these situations with care.

If you expect to become a great wrestler overnight because you're a fabulous swimmer, you set yourself up for frustration and overwhelm.

The great thing about leadership roles is that you can develop over time, and there's no age bias. Are you 50 or 60? No problem!

Just make sure that you acquire the skills and traits and grow to be the person you want to be as a leader.

Have a look at this article to understand how you can avoid repeating the mistakes you hated about your boss (yes, exactly the ones you swore to avoid for years.)

Responsibility for your staff

Your staff earns their living by contributing to your team. Most often, not just one existence, but a whole family depends on the income the job provides.

Not just for yourself and your company, you owe it to your staff to do everything in your power to lead them to success (and job safety.)

What do people need to produce results?

  • Information
  • Skills
  • Motivation
  • Resources
  • Feedback
  • Appreciation
  • Opportunities
  • A leader who has their back

One of the reasons why I was never interested in a leadership role is that a great leader takes numerous beatings without even telling his people. Whether it is nasty politics after a merger, McKinsey are playing in the house, financial problems, you screwed up—a great leader acts as a buffer between you and aforementioned.

You also have to want to lead.

Alfred Herrhausen (assassinated former Deutsche Bank manager)

Regarding the quote above: Read the fascinating bio about this leader WAY ahead of his time HERE

You should communicate goals and your expectations clearly. Often when employees receive negative feedback, they were never told what their manager expects in the first place.

Don't assume too much. They're not mind readers. For instance, if you say “build a nice house for me,” it would be unfair to complain later that it doesn't have a cellar.

If you need a house with a cellar and pool, tell them.

You don't have to share every piece of information personally, but you have to make sure that the flow of information works.

People deserve fair treatment, and that includes reasonable goals.

Questions you could ask yourself:

  • Are the working hours fair?
  • Is the working environment healthy? (That includes sorting out toxic people, even if they are your “best horses.”)
  •  Is the workload manageable?
  • Do they have the needed resources?
  • Are the tools suited for high productivity? (or do they work with an abacus and Windows 98 in an overheated room.)
  • Is the trust intact?

Especially, getting the needed resources is a struggle. You might have to “fight” with peers for the limited time of the IT staff. Most resources require budgets, and they are limited.

Great leaders create new leaders

You're also responsible for the growth of your staff.

That means more than offering training – you have to become a bit like a fortune-teller and develop the ability to predict developments of the market, economy, technology, and your company.

Motivating your staff to use their skills and gifts is another critical factor. You might think that unhappy people quit and leave. However, the most destructive, unhappy people might stick around and damage team trust, productivity, and the general atmosphere.

I'll cover this topic in a separate article because it's critical.

If you're able to provide an environment where everyone can perform at their peak, you will not just be successful, but also lead a happier life.