In a previous blog, I wrote about my early career as a Manufacturing Engineer and how I moved into management roles by the time I was in my 20s. You can imagine that I made many mistakes, learning a lot about what good leadership is and how not to manage people!
Moving from a technical role into management, my challenge with leadership was not unusual. A new leader requires a different set of skills to what made him/her a great engineer. On Friday, they are part of the team, and on Monday, they are leading it. I call this phenomenon the “magic weekend”. Excellent technical specialists are promoted to positions of leadership because they are great at being technical specialists. Not necessarily because they have great leadership skills. Many companies overlook this and hence, new leaders are often ill-equipped to deal with management responsibilities such as resolving conflict, for instance.
Over my career, I’ve learned a few lessons about good leadership. Whether you find yourself leading in your 20s or in your 50s, these four lessons are invaluable for instilling good leadership:
Spend time listening before you act
New leaders often come into a new role and want to make a big impression. They make lots of changes and start reorganising. This can lead to hostility if you don’t take the time to truly understand the business, the individuals, as well as the challenges that they have.
The first 90 days by Michael Watkins is a great book that I read around the time I took my first management role. One of the key messages from the author is to make sure that you get agreement from your boss to spend the time getting to know the business. Manage expectations such that your manager knows that you will not be making radical changes early on.
Avoid a “one size fits all” approach
Your new team will be made up of individuals who are motivated in different ways. Therefore, don’t expect that what works with one person will necessarily work for the others.
This approach works more broadly to even in my current business.
As an HR consultant, I don’t expect to deliver off-the-shelf solutions to my clients because every company has a different set of challenges. That’s why I tend not to talk about “best practice”.
I don’t think there’s such a thing as best practice but there’s good practice. What’s best for one business might not be best for another business.
In a 2010 report on fairness, equality and good relations in Scotland, the authors explain their observations about approaches to fairness,
"Two distinct approaches towards equality and fairness: treating everyone the same regardless of who they are, or treating people differently according to their need.”
As leaders, we might think we have to reward everyone the same way. But fairness doesn’t necessarily mean that we do the exact same thing for everybody. Seek to understand members of your team, then make a plan to treat them accordingly.
You won’t have all the answers
Often as leaders, we think we should be seen as professional by always having the answers. It’s ok to be vulnerable (Brené Brown’s work on this is first-class) and not put on an act based on what we think people expect from us. People will see through that.
BRENÉ BROWN: The POWER OF VULNERABILITY
Early in my career, I thought that I needed to always come across as professional, credible and knowledgeable. So that was how I tried to be in conversations with people. But then, I got feedback that I actually came across as cold and distant.
Over time, I found that by opening up a bit more, people were able to engage with me. I was able to influence people more effectively.
Accept that you won’t please everybody
With all the best intentions, it’s impossible to please everybody all the time. If you apply the three lessons above, you’ll be on the right track.
It’s important, however, to get feedback from those around you as you lead. Make adjustments where you see value in doing so and keep the cycle going. This is the only way to become a better leader, and that is to work on your leadership skills. And I don’t mean that you should aim for perfection.
Discover what leadership is about for you, link it to your personal values and keep encouraging feedback so that you continue to improve. The world is always changing, therefore, what you do as a leader is bound to change.
Top tips for good leadership
- Understand the context in which your business and your team operate. Don’t rush to make radical changes. Seek to listen and understand before acting.
- Be adaptable so that you treat people the way they would like to be treated. Remember, fairness doesn’t mean that everybody should have the same thing.
- Learn from those around you and be a leader that encourages feedback. Create an environment where this is the norm.
- Develop the skill of giving and receiving feedback. Doing it well will help you as a leader and it will drive productivity in your team.
If you’d like to find out more about how I can help you to excel in your new role as a leader, please get in touch by phoning 07980 838945 or 01224 460444, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for an informal chat.
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