Author's Note: Thanks for your response to my earlier blog on First Time Leaders. Needless to say, your suggestions and interactions encouraged me to write a sequel .
Over the years, a lot of material has been created on leadership. However, there is relatively less written specifically for first time leaders. Its not as if the material on leadership is not relevant, it's just not customized for the benefit of young people taking on leadership roles for the first-time especially if you look at a tough business like business process outsourcing (especially contact centers) where such first timers lead large teams spanning 15-20 people. Considering the fact that the evolution from an individual worker to a team leader poses several challenges to them, I think that they need a little more preparation mentally and in terms of life and job skills, to be more successful in their changed roles.
Further to the topics we covered in my earlier blog
"on first time leaders", I believe that they need to look at certain specific deeper aspects of their role more closely so that they understand context and impact, cause and effect more clearly.
FIRST TIME LEADERS: COMPREHENDNG THE BIG PICTURE?
Fresh from their last assignment, most first time leaders do not look at the big picture behind their new project/assignment. It hits them hard when they realize that their ability to deliver the performance metrics of their last role does not guarantee their performance and ability to manage the delivery of a larger impact that goes far beyond them and their team..
||Helping the first time leader succeed
Hence, young leaders must ask the following questions and seek answers that allow them to delve deeper into what they do and its interdependencies:
- How does my client benefit from this service?
- How does my client make money and how do we make money?
- What are the potential leakage points in terms of revenue or costs?
- What, if done better, will help us get more business from this client or help my client seek and grow its business?
JOURNEY AHEAD: WHERE DO I SEE MYSELF OR MY UNIT?
From being individual contributors to suddenly being entrusted with the responsibility of driving and implementing an agenda for a whole team, is a tough transition! Learning to lead is itself a process of trial and error that comes from being exposed to and learning from many on-the-job experiences.
But if not planned and provided for by their managers, the visibility that new leaders have on this front is not high and they could stumble into some avoidable spells of "poor performance". For inexperienced new leaders, handholding by their managers usually helps to address some of these difficult areas:
- The new leader must first "unlearn" the existing individualistic mindset for a new professional leaders identity to emerge.
- It is crucial for them to distinguish between goals and their supporting activities. Focusing on activities that provide a sense of achievement but disregarding the final/desired business outcome results will result in poor performance reviews for these normally high achievers. A well-managed goal-setting discipline in the organization should help new managers to organize, prioritize and distinguish between the two and help them to do better.
- New leaders with clear goals center their thinking on the right issues and deploy their teams effectively.
It is important that their managers play a more constructive role in goal-setting and "goal-coaching" so that the new leader can develop a well-informed view of the journey ahead.
THE FAST TRACK YOUNG LEADER: LEARN NEW SKILLS&INTERNALIZE REQUIRED TRAITS
A lot has been written on qualities that make people successful, but they are not necessarily the ones that will take you to the next level. Peter Drucker, the management guru said, "Every individual rises to his level of incompetence". First time leaders have to ensure that they become an exception to this rule at least in the first role, especially if they are looking to grow.
It's not as difficult as most of them may think. But they need to figure out their new role as a leader and their suddenly increased "headspace", which resets the score of what they "know" to zero in many ways. This is definitely a humbling experience. Most first time leaders who realize that they need to scamper harder to absorb new learning do a good job of catching up by reading books, subscribing to online and social forums and "making sense" of the meeting they had with people "two levels up" in their organization.
The global business environment that we live in is fast paced and hard on failure. And if Darwin's "survival of the fittest" dictum is applied to first time leaders, we find he was not too off the mark. For them to be more successful, imparting skills and domain knowledge training is not enough. They need to add certain long term traits too, for which I turn to a video
I recently came across of Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook's COO) speaking to the graduating Class of 2012 at the Harvard Business School. I was impressed with the clarity of thought and authenticity with which Sheryl spoke. Her advice to the graduating class is as relevant to any new leader. The need for a first time leader to look for growth (a "rocket ship" as Sheryl describes it) cannot be underlined enough. To that I would add that they need to seek the truth-and develop the professional integrity that makes them strong managers in a dynamic world.
When people are promoted to their first leadership position, what should they keep in mind? What are your thoughts on helping new leaders succeed? What are the biggest challenges that first time leader face today?