By: Wilma Slenders
Successful leaders inevitably find themselves promoted to higher levels. Sometimes the change in role is significant; other times less so. Often the role includes supervising people who used to be peers; in other cases, it is a whole new group of people.
Making these upward moves – from being an individual contributor to a team lead, a supervisor to management level, or a Vice President to CEO – may not seem to have much in common, but in actuality, they do. Each time there is an organizational level change, there are changes in expectations, acceptable behaviors, as well as actions that need to be taken and decisions to be made.
If you’re in this position, worry not! I polled members of my network for advice on what you should do if you are a leader moving up in the organization. Here are their perspectives, and advice.
Trust that you deserve to be there
Many high achieving individuals feel like they don’t deserve to be promoted, are frauds, and are worried about being exposed as such.
U.K. Strategic Leader, Sing Chen believes that self-confidence and trust in yourself are critical. He advises leaders to “trust the behaviors and performance that led to the opportunity. You likely didn’t get that opportunity by luck or random chance. Someone has placed their trust in you, not through faith, but by seeing your capability and potential.”
Seek out support
Every leader requires support and coaching. This is most critical in a leader’s first days in the new job. Raymond Verlage, a Certified Executive Coach asks: “Who will walk with me in my first 100 days? If not my boss, do I have a mentor or coach to identify the next steps and my own gaps that need filling?” Chen reflects on the inability to know it all and the importance of trusted advisors: “While you will almost never have all the information you’d like, know your inner trusted circle and lean on them.”
Assess the lay of the land
Look before you leap may be an overused and trite phrase, but provides useful guidance for leaders in new roles. Samuel Bolland recommends “listening before taking any major action.” This is a tried and true method for “understanding time, place and need fully”. Often assumptions are made by new leaders that are incorrect, and as a result, everything they do is colored by that.
Many books have been written about the first 90, or 100, days of leadership. Depending on your role, you may not have that much time to determine the lay of the land. However, it is important to make sure that you spend time finding out about the team, its mission, the challenges it is facing, its strengths, its weaknesses and what team members are expecting. Even if you were a part of the team before you became its leader, it is wise not to make assumptions that you already know all of this.
Intent, self-empowerment, and belief
“Being intentional about making decisions and feeling empowered to make them is critical,” states Chen. Waffling on making decisions erodes team confidence. Chen shares that “the only wrong decision is no decision.” I’ve read that, in hindsight, about half of the business decisions were wrong. But, what was important at the time was that a decision was made.
There will be people who disagree with your choices, decisions and even the fact that you were promoted. Trish Elley, PhD, Business Professor at Colorado Technical University, notes that “a belief in yourself and the decisions you make, is critical, as there will be haters.”
Look forward, not backward
Bernard Parkinson, Chief Opportunity Office at BDP Advisory Ltd., offers this perspective on focus: “When you are sitting on your white charger overlooking the field of battle; take time to make sure you are sitting in the saddle looking forward – and not backward.” This pertains to knowing the strategy of the company, where it is going, what its goals are, and how the team contributes. Leading in the direction of already established momentum is important to the team’s success.
Let go of the past
Parkinson’s perspective also pertains to understanding how to be successful at the new level. Leadership expert Patricia Pitsel, PhD, shares a conversation with a VP at a large company who said that the hardest thing for her was learning what to do to be successful as a VP and to stop doing what made her successful as a Director.
Eric Mogensen, concurs: “As you take on new and higher responsibilities, be mindful of those things that you must also now let go of.” Holding on to the past is natural and comfortable for most leaders. They believe that what served them well in the past, will serve them well in the future.
While it is important to build on the foundation of one’s past career success, it is also important to realize that those same skills that helped achieve that level of success, may no longer be relevant in higher level roles. Marshall Goldsmith, the #1 leadership thinker in the world, wrote a book called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, which provides further insights on this.
Lead by example
People look to leaders for cues on how to behave. If it is okay for the leader to engage in a certain action or behave in a certain way, members of the team will think it is okay to do that as well.
Tarek Sabry, a Senior Associate with PWC, shares the importance of this. “Lead by example and don’t just dictate orders on your team, instead educate employees on how it’s done or find a mentor to help with that), and more importantly, share reasons on why it’s essential to do this now.”
Pitsel observes that “if this is an internal promotion, a major challenge is behaving in such a way that all your new direct reports don’t believe that you will favor your friends from your previous job, and letting your friends know that there won’t be special benefits for them because of friendship and previous association”.
When individuals move into more senior roles, they may believe that they need to be a different person. While the expectations for the role and for leadership have changed, it is disingenuous to become a fundamentally different person. Ashwin Kutty, President and CEO of UsWeThem Inc., provides the following advice. “You may be in a new senior role, but you have not changed as a person. Don’t be anything you are not, and don’t let a title change that. People may look at you differently, but as long as you treat them with the same level of respect that you did before, nothing should change. Try not distancing yourself and earn the respect and followership you clearly need”.
How you frame situations makes a difference. We often see the phrase “sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.” This, of course, is a reframing of failure to present it in a more positive light. Chen shares, “know that you base a decision on the information you have, having assessed the risks, the possible outcomes, taken input from your peers, your seniors, your team. It is often the consequences of making a mistake that prevent us from coming to decisions, and therefore it is not the decision-making that is necessarily the issue, but how you adjust your mindset and reframe the belief that making a decision which hindsight may show was a mistake – and knowing that the important lesson is about how you dust yourself down, learn from a mistake, and improve.”
Grow as a leader
Stepping in to new roles requires growth and development. Individuals with a growth mindset will embrace that concept.
Patti Kay Hanrath, Leadership and Personal Development Coach and Trainer, recommends looking at what area you need to grow in as a leader in your new role and intentionally develop that. Hanrahan states that “you must grow yourself to raise the overall level of leadership in the company.”
Mark Brown, Director at US Oil Sands recommends “taking time to learn what you excel in as a leader by examining the past and present roles.” Steps to follow:
- Be objective, which can be challenging for most.
- Look for the gaps that exist in your leadership abilities.
- Visualize where you are going with those gaps left unfilled.
- Now contrast the outlook with one or two of those gaps filled.
- Pick the most important one and develop a plan to sharpen that aspect of leadership.
Dr. Mark Wolfe discusses the importance of the leadership context. “Leadership does not begin and end within the boundaries of the organization, but is a social obligation requiring awareness of the broader context of the organization’s role, not just its obligations.”
Developing your people
Lisa Holden Rovers reminds leaders that “your success will depend on the quality of the people you lead. Assuming that they will be leading leaders, they need to focus time and attention on helping to strengthen these leaders’ ability to lead teams effectively.”
Hanrath advises leaders to “assess the strengths of your team and develop leaders who develop more leaders, use the multiplication effect and not the addition. This will move the organization forward faster and more efficiently and subsequently with more profitability. By developing leaders who develop leaders it will also improve employee engagement and overall job satisfaction which improves every aspect of the company.”
How you show up
IQ and experience is what gets individuals hired and EI (emotional intelligence) is what keeps them there. EI is determined to be a necessity to move up the organization. Emotional intelligence refers to understanding yourself, as well as understanding others and how what you say and do impacts them.
Mike Watson shares that “everything speaks a message from the viewpoint of the receiver, which quiet possibly may not match your intention. The hours you keep, what you wear, accessibility to you, what you attend, what you don’t attend, what and when you communicate.” Leaders send cues to their people. What cues are you sending?
Creating an environment where people trust the leader and each other is the foundation for a high performing team. In order for trust to exist, three elements are required: integrity, ability, and benevolence or caring. Dan Gaynor, addresses the element of benevolence. “Care, really care, most about the people and mission you lead. Always put these interests first.”
Margo Myers observes that “increased visibility means pay attention more closely to clear communication. What you say, how you say it and how it’s received will take on more weight, so awareness around your communication style is key.”
Moving into a new, more senior leadership role can be exciting and scary at the same time. With support from others, understanding of what the expectations are, and a forward vision and view, it can be relatively painless.
Thank-you to the contributors to this article. You are awesome and provided some excellent insights and advice.
Want to read more:
Cathy Freer-Leszczynski recommends the following books:
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – Marshall Goldsmith
The Leadership Pipeline – Ram Charan, Steve Drotter and Jim Noel