How to think like a leader

Too often, people who are promoted to their first leadership position miss the point. And that failure probably trips up careers more than any other reason.

Being a leader changes everything. Before you are a leader, success is all about you. It’s about your performance. Your contributions. It’s about raising your hand, getting called on, and delivering the right answer.

When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. It’s about making the people who work for you smarter, bigger, and bolder. Nothing you do anymore as an individual matters except how you nurture and support your team and help its members increase their self-confidence. Yes, you will get your share of attention from up above—but only inasmuch as your team wins. Put another way: Your success as a leader will come not from what you do but from the reflected glory of your team.

Now, that’s a big transition—and no question, it’s hard. Being a leader basically requires a whole new mindset. You’re no longer constantly thinking “How can I stand out?” but “How can I help my people do their jobs better?” Sometimes that requires undoing a couple of decades of momentum. After all, you probably spent your entire life, starting in grade school and continuing through your last job, as a contributor who excels at “raising your hand.” But the good news is that you’ve been promoted because someone above you believes you have the stuff to make the leap from star player to successful coach.

What does that leap actually involve? First and foremost, you need to actively mentor your people. Exude positive energy about life and the work that you are doing together, show optimism about the future, and care. Care passionately about each person’s progress. Give your people feedback—not just at yearend and midyear performance reviews but after meetings, presentations, or visits to clients. Make every significant event a teaching moment. Discuss what you like about what they are doing and ways that they can improve. Your energy will energize those around you.

And there’s no need for sugarcoating. Use total candor, which happens, incidentally, to be one of the defining characteristics of effective leaders.

Through it all, never forget—you’re a leader now. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about them.

(Except Jack Welch)

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One thought on “How to think like a leader

  1. This is outstanding. I know I struggled when I was first promoted into a leadership position to grasp the idea that the things that made me successful as an individual contributor would not get the job done as a leader. Everything I had focused on before became of secondary importance overnight, and it took time for me to figure out what I was supposed to be focusing on instead.

    I see the same thing from the other side now. When I promote folks I see them sometimes struggle to understand what it is they are really supposed to be focusing on – and the idea that that “thing” is the people that they were competing with yesterday for the promotion that just made them a leader can be hard to understand. I was trying to beat these guys yesterday, trying to outshine them – and now my job is to do everything in my power to make them more effective, make them better, help them achieve? That requires a tremendous paradigm shift.

    Thanks for a great post, Damicole.

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