Nobody is born a perfect leader.
Like any skill, the ability to lead successfully has to be developed and nurtured. First-time managers, especially those with little or no training, may find it counterintuitive that the “script” they’ve relied upon until now — “My skills, my talents, and my technical knowledge have led to my success” — is no longer their ticket as new leaders.
In fact, sticking to the same script will actually make them less effective.
Instead, new leaders must “flip the script” in the way they think and act in 6 key areas:
- Work attitude
1. Start Learning Like a Leader
William Gentry, author of Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For, explains that successful first-time managers are able to flip their mindset from “being a great individual contributor” to “being a team leader who motivates others to succeed.”
Gentry’s research found that such leaders tend to have a more open approach to learning than those stuck in the individual contributor mindset.
“Their motivation to learn because it was fun, exciting, and engaging…far outweighed their motivation to learn because it would bring them rewards, recognition, and would impress others,” Gentry says. He even found that effective new leaders talked to themselves differently, using second-person pronouns (you and your) and not first-person pronouns (I, me, and my).
An old script might read, “I’ve never been a manager before. How can I possibly do this?”
A more constructive inner dialogue for effective new managers is: “You have the ability to learn about leading others. You can be a great boss.”
2. Build Skills for Team Success
According to Gentry’s research, effective leaders who make the flip:
- Communicate with others the way they want to be communicated with.
- Influence others to move work forward and gain support for their decisions
- Build and lead teams successfully.
- Develop others’ skills by assigning them challenging tasks and providing ongoing feedback.
In Gentry’s research, leaders who relied solely on the technical expertise that landed them their promotion were unsuccessful in their new leadership role.
3. Make the Switch from BFF to Boss
Successful first-time managers know that former coworkers and friends will view them differently. They accept their new role and:
- Set clear expectations for friends and former coworkers.
- Treat team members fairly, but not equally (bonuses and raises are based on merit, not favoritism).
- Build high-quality relationships with their subordinates (even those they don’t “click” with).
- Improve team cohesion by making roles and responsibilities clear and keeping track of each member’s progress.
Ineffective leaders have trouble making the switch from “best friend” to “boss” while at work because they haven’t flipped their script from focusing on personal relationships to focusing on the relationship they have with their team.
4. Delegate — Don’t Do It All
Productive leaders drive team results by delegating tasks. They set goals for their team members, and they give positive and negative feedback to help them develop.
“Do it all” bosses who haven’t flipped their script still define themselves by the amount of work they alone do.
By not delegating, they convey the message that they don’t trust their team to do a good job. Team members stagnate, productivity slows, and the company suffers.
New leaders face an abrupt change of perspective from “outsider” to “insider” when it comes to company politics. In his book, Gentry explains that first-time managers who accept politics as a necessary part of the big picture tend to be more productive and satisfied with their jobs.
They work with the system by:
- Gathering information about the thoughts, behaviors, and needs of coworkers and stakeholders.
- Observing what is appropriate behavior for each situation and acting on it.
- Connecting genuinely with a diverse group of people to gain new information and build support for their team’s — and stakeholders’ — goals.
New leaders who don’t expand their perspective will likely view politics as a chore and won’t garner any of the benefits.
6. Focus on What’s Right, Not What’s Easy
With leadership comes responsibility — to always act on what’s right, rather than what’s easy or self-serving. Strong leaders have flipped their focus from themselves to how their actions could affect their team, the organization, and everyone involved.
Developing integrity takes time and practice. Gentry advises:
- When making important decisions, ask, “What would Mom (or other important figures in your life) think about this?”
- Be honest about what you can and can’t do — and when you can deliver.
- Don’t let a relationship, time pressure, or monetary rewards cloud your judgment. Take yourself out of the equation to fully understand the consequences of any decision.
New leaders who focus on integrity build trusting relationships with their team and are more likely to enjoy long-term success.
Learn more about becoming a successful leader in our Maximizing Your Leadership Potential program, designed especially for first-time managers.