It’s exciting when you get the opportunity to be a manager or leader for the first time. Often we have yearned for the opportunity to be a boss but as we come towards that opportunity we sometimes gulp at the thought of the responsibilities that we’re about to take on.
Think about what you’re about to take on before you get cracking
Probably the most important thing at this stage is for you to build your confidence so that you have a strong inner core that frames what it is that you want to be as a leader, as much as what you will be seen to do. The confidence that you build is not built on sand. It is you drawing on all of your life’s experience, as well as your work experience, to get ready for this new undertaking.
What research can you do before taking on this role?
There are things that you can do to find out about the organization and its direction, its strategy and its intentions going into the future. There are things that you can do in finding out about the people who are going to be around you, the leaders of this enterprise who are your bosses. Learn more about the people who you’re taking over from. The more research you do, the more comfortable you will be with the reality that they are regular people who are just like you –they are not monsters with two heads. This helps you to understand that you’re starting on a level playing field.
Be sensitive to what you’re walking into
You need time to assimilate the history and the present. You want also to create enough space for yourself that you can process what you’re learning in an appropriate way and in a way that does not give any indication that you’re critical of what’s happened in the past. That sort of criticism will earn you no brownie points.
Understand what matters
It’s important to know what gets rewarded and praised. Start to understand more clearly the values of this organization that you’re involved in. What are the fundamental, rather than the discretionary, things that you need to focus your attention on?
Greet new people
Be positive with the information that new people have and give to you. Even if it is already on your mind that they’re things you wish to change, listen to what people have to tell you and be open to not just their briefing but their suggestions. Indeed you can ask them for their thoughts about what they’re doing and what they may want to do in the future.
This does not happen in a single conversation or in a single week. It takes time. When you come into your first command you are going to need a good trust base with the people that you lead in order for you to make the changes that you believe are important. Why would somebody want to be led by you? The answer invariably comes back to the level of trust and confidence that they place in you.
Develop good relationships
When you take your first command you should set out to develop good relationships with everybody that works for you. This doesn’t happen particularly when you work with a lot of people or when you’re in disparate locations but you should seek to understand what the key relationships you need to develop are. As well as subordinates, identify important peers and, critically, your boss. Like trust, these relationships take time to develop. Don’t be too hasty but do invest time in learning about your new colleagues.
Display the behaviour that is acceptable to you
In every step you make in your first command you can let it be known what’s OK with you and what is not OK. You can let people know in the most appropriate way what you believe is acceptable and what is not. It could be about timekeeping or absence. It could be about the language used in front of you or with clients. It could be quality of written communications, by text or email, which you want to tighten up on. Whatever it is, display these behaviours yourself from the word go. You don’t have to impose them immediately on everybody but by you behaving in the way that you wish everybody to, you are leading the way.
This issue, like the previous point, is about setting standards so people are very clear on what is okay for both you and the team as whole – and what’s not okay. You’re starting to let people know that there is a new person in command of this team with a different set of standards and behaviours than there have been before. Sometimes, in very strong organizations that have had healthy cultures for a long time, these types of issue are assumed and people starting out as leaders know exactly not just what they have to do but what others are doing. Where this is new ground for incoming and new leaders, it can be a significantly challenging arena.
Your Personal Disciplines
The most important element of leading in your first command is for you to be tight and rigorous in the pursuit of your own personal disciplines. When you turn up for work how well prepared are you for meetings, particularly when you’re chairing? Are you doing what you say you will do? Are you meeting difficult issues straight on and with respect for all parties concerned? These are the types of things that make or break your efforts to lead others.
About the author:
Simon North is the Founder of Position Ignition and the Career Ignition Club. Position Ignition is one of the UK’s leading career development and career planning companies. The Career Ignition Club offers a range of career support tools, advice and e-learning materials for its members.