My biggest mistake was becoming a leader. Yes, you are reading that correctly. However, it may not be what you think. My mistake was not in the wanting, it was in my lack of understanding of what it meant to be a leader and the associated consequences of not knowing. Fortunately, I had someone who saw potential in me and helped me develop.
Many of us have found ourselves in our first leadership position (and unfortunately maybe beyond) completely unaware of what to do and even worse, the type of impact we are having on others around us, especially our direct reports. Typically when we make that first move from individual contributor to leader of others it is likely because we have demonstrated the ability to influence outcomes in our organization, competency in our role and an ambition to grow in our career. If we carry this lack of understanding into subsequent and larger leadership roles, the impacts can be devastating to an organization.
Upon receiving that first leadership role I expected that people would just “show up” and “do their jobs” as competent individual contributors. I had no idea that they would need my collaboration and support in problem solving, need to be developed or simply just need to feel connected to me in some meaningful way to enhance their engagement and performance. In fact, it was inconvenient for me to be interrupted and I actually wondered why they were being so needy. After all, I had my own work to do and they were hired because of their competency to do their jobs. Right?
It’s almost laughable in written form if it weren’t so painfully true. Unfortunately, these sentiments are real and pervasive among the uninformed and untrained. The good news is effective leadership can be learned and leadership mistakes mitigated. The first step is making the choice to lead and understanding what that means. Following are three concepts that are drawn from the book The Leadership Pipeline by Charan, Drotter and Noel (additional information may be found on the Leadership Pipeline Institute® website).
Work Values: The most important things for you to focus on in your role as a leader. This means recognizing and being prepared for the fact that it’s no longer about your individual contribution. In fact, it’s about your team and their success. Their success is your success. Focusing on their development, coaching them and partnering with them are key priorities.
Time Application: Simply stated, if you have the right work values, you will prioritize your time to focus on those things that help your team grow and succeed. How much time will vary based on factors like team size, the number of direct reports, the amount of change or turmoil your organization may be experiencing, the competency of your team and many other factors.
Skills: It’s not enough to spend the time based on the right priorities. You must be a good communicator, collaborator and coach. The best leaders facilitate mutual goal setting, create accountability for performance through ongoing conversation and coach for performance. Developing your ability to influence change, growth and outcomes among your team requires a commitment to ongoing skill development.
No matter how high up in an organization anyone of us may go, we must learn to balance various demands while focusing on our teams. Just keep this thought in mind, leadership is the job, it’s not something you do in addition to the job.