It’s you first week on the job as a new leader. You are really excited about the opportunity to supervise and lead others. Then, after a few days, maybe hours, reality strikes you!
You are still helping out on your old job. The person replacing you wants more time with you. The person you are replacing left the company. You know little about your new work area and you are now starting to feel anxious. You have five people reporting to you, one of whom, you have been told, has performance problems. On your 1st day, you have three meetings on your calendar and you don’t know what they are about. You are wondering about training for a 1st leader, but there is none. Does any of these sound familiar? Starting to feel stressed?
Nobody else will tell you this but here are Seven Secrets to help you get started, take control and be successful in your 1st time leader role. Try these and see if they help you.
Secret #1: Manage Yourself First.
It’s an exciting new experience. You earned it. You are making great progress in your career. Step back! There is an adjustment and learning period involved in taking on a broader set of responsibilities, especially people responsibilities. Accept it, you will be fine! Start by staying healthy, continue your exercise program, eat properly and make sure you get enough sleep. Give yourself some space and energy to do what you need to do on the job.
Secret #2: Ask Yourself, What is Really Important?
I learned a lesson many years ago in a leadership development class. The attendees, made up of new leaders, were given the task of running a business for a day. We were given a leadership job, a desk, a computer, and access to e-mail inboxes with lots of problems and questions.
Once the day started, chaos followed. Everybody was trying to set up meetings with everybody else. Should I respond to urgent e-mails? Attend a meeting? Set up a meeting? It was overwhelming. Well, I didn’t do a good job of asking myself a key question. What was really important for me to work on? Instead I focused on what was urgent, which was not necessarily the most important! This valuable experience stuck with me for the remainder of my career.
If you ever find yourself getting overly stressed, step back and ask yourself an empowering question. What is really important today, this week? Am you focusing on the activities that have the maximum business impact and address the biggest risks? Then prioritize, delegate, eliminate and do whatever you can do to focus on whatever is most important.
Here is the “Acid Test”. How do you feel at the end of the day or week? Happy? Regrets? Did you accomplish what you really should have accomplished? Are you planning on working into the evening or over the weekend? Maybe you need to keep asking yourself that question!
Secret #3: Get to know the Business
You have broader or newer business responsibilities. Move quickly to learn the fundamentals of the business and meet your business partners. This will put you in a stronger position to lead in your new organization.
Get close to the front line. Get up from behind your desk, meet people and ask questions. Understand your customers, their needs and business goals. For example, if you work in finance and support a manufacturing operation, then tour a plant site, meet production and function managers, understand their challenges, and how your organization can help. This effort will get noticed and you will establish new networks to lean on later.
Secret #4: Get to know Your Staff
What you do here will get noticed either way! Prioritize some quality time with each of your new staff. Take a genuine interest in their lives, their families, their work, and their aspirations. Ask them personally about what they need from you as a leader relative to projects they are working on or with their careers. This could be at a practical, directional level or even basic encouragement and support. Just listen and digest what you are hearing.
On an on-going basis, set up structured one-on-one conversations. Let your staff set the agenda. One tip, to create open and transparent conversations, is to institutionalize feedback into the one-on-one agenda. You give me feedback and I give you feedback! This avoids the stress of having to create the safety needed when you want to have an important conversation.
Secret #5: Ask for Help
If you need help, ask for it. Set up regular time with your supervisor and business partners. Your needs will depend on where you stand in your stage of development relative to specific goals and assignments. In some cases, you may just need a sounding board. In other situations, you may need more specific direction.
Secret #6: You Are Not Alone
Other 1st time leaders experience leadership transition challenges. Senior leaders have struggles too, often involving supervising people. Don’t kid yourself! Meet and talk to them. How do they manage workload? How do they motivate and develop their staff? How do they tune into their needs of their staff? Find a mentor to confide in and share your experiences.
Secret #7: Get the Most Out of Leadership Training
If your company offers a training program for 1st time leaders, sign up early. Your goal should be to learn one or two skills, network, generate ideas and write down one or two action items. Tell others about what you learned and what you will do. And do it! Remember executing one action item or applying one new skill is better than having a list of ten and executing none.