Leading a Team Requires Changing Your Perspective
Stepping into a management role isn’t just a change of task — it’s a fundamental shift of identity.
To be successful, first-time managers must make the transition from a person who gets the work done themselves to a person who gets work done through others. It requires a different definition of success, a new level of self-awareness, and an additional range of skills.
Your definition of success must now include the success of others. Rather than focusing on your own performance, you need to be considering questions such as:
- How does the group or team accomplish its work?
- Are they effective as individuals?
- Do they collaborate?
- Are team members committed and engaged?
- How are individual motivations and needs connected to the work and the organization?
You may find it counterintuitive that the “script” you’ve had in your head and relied upon until now — “my skills, my talents, and my technical knowledge have led to my success” — is no longer their ticket to success as a new leader.
In fact, sticking to the same script will actually make you less effective.
Our research has found that the most effective leaders use second-person pronouns (like you and your) instead of first-person pronouns (like I, me, and my). So while you might naturally say to yourself, “I’ve never been a manager before. How can I possibly do this?” a more constructive inner dialogue is, “You have the ability to learn about leading others. You can be a great boss.”
At the same time, you should take stock of your own strengths, weaknesses, and patterns — after all, who you are drives how you lead. Even though the emphasis is no longer on your individual performance, you need to understand your behaviors, preferences, and tendencies. The most effective way to lead others may not always be your default approach.
For example, you might be a person who thrives on the pressure of a tight deadline and, as an individual contributor, earned a reputation as someone who will roll up your sleeves and get the job done. As a manager of others, these same practices and preferences could lead to poor planning, micromanaging, or inadequate use of resources. If you assume everyone operates the same way you did as an individual contributor, you won’t see or leverage the array of talent on your team.
Be a Leader Everyone Adores With These 6 Steps
New leaders must “flip their scripts” in the way they think and act in 6 key areas.
1. Mindset: Start Learning About Leading Others
As explained in the book Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For, successful first-time managers are able to change their perspectives from “being a great individual contributor” to “being a team leader who motivates others to succeed.”
Such leaders tend to have a more open approach to learning than those stuck in the individual contributor mindset. Their motivation to learn comes from a belief that learning is fun, exciting, and engaging, and that far outweighs a motivation of rewards, recognition, and impressing others.
2. Skillset: Build Skills to Manage Your Team Successfully
Effective leaders work on their skillsets for team leadership:
- 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.
Our research found that leaders who relied solely on the technical expertise that landed them their promotion were rated as less successful in their new leadership role.
3. Relationships: Make the Switch From Best Friend to Boss
Successful first-time managers know moving from “best friend” to boss can be tricky; former coworkers and friends will view them differently once they are in a leadership position. They accept their new role and follow these guidelines:
- Set clear expectations for friends and former coworkers.
- Treat team members fairly, but not equally, giving 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 peer to boss because they haven’t flipped their script from focusing on personal relationships to focusing on the relationship they have with their team.
4. Work Attitude: 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 organization suffers.
5. Perspective: See the Bigger Picture
New leaders face an abrupt change of perspective from “outsider” to “insider” when it comes to company politics. First-time managers who accept politics as a necessary part of the bigger picture of leadership 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 perspectives will likely view politics as a chore and won’t garner any of the benefits.
6. Integrity: Focus on What’s Right, Not What’s Easy
With leadership comes responsibility — to act always based 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. We recommend:
- Consider carefully: 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 anything cloud your judgement: not a relationship, time pressure, or monetary rewards. 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 in their new roles.
From Individual Contributor to Leading a Team
Attention new manager: Now is the time to become a versatile leader.
As an “official” manager of others, you need to learn new ways of achieving results. Success isn’t about your individual contribution. It’s about getting the best out of each direct report to meet the group’s goals. In this new role, versatility may be your best asset.
Being a versatile leader means that you can choose a range of responses to achieve results. Versatility requires you to open your eyes to your own preferences and behaviors, read others accurately, and learn a variety of tactics to deal with common challenges. Participants in CCL’s Maximizing Your Leadership Potential program, for example, focus on self-awareness, communication, building and maintaining relationships, constructive responses to conflict, influence, and learning agility.
With a foundation of these 6 key competencies, you can better manage your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as seek to understand the perspectives of others. You have the tools to encourage and model effective communication, seek solutions instead of blaming, give constructive feedback, and find ways to connect individual and organizational needs.
Read about Maximizing Your Leadership Potential, CCL’s leadership program that develops the perspective, knowledge, and practical skills that first-time and front-line managers need to effectively lead others.
Or for virtual training, check out Frontline Leader Impact, an online program for anyone preparing to move into a first-level manager role.