Promotions are always elusive, but something almost every business professional seeks. Once earned, however, the time of joy quickly ends as awareness of all the changes to come begins. Whether internally or externally, becoming a new leader is a process marked by a series of transitions. First, you are now a steward of operations, and with that comes the often thankless responsibility of managing resources. As you probably know, duty will not earn much favor within the ranks as you will be making decisions that will inevitably affect the masses.
Those decisions naturally lead to the next transition: friends at work are no longer just friends. Cohorts have become subordinates and you will find yourself creating professional distance between you and those you had lunch with every day. They are likely to do the same, which can be distressing to those who value other people’s opinions. Then there is also the matter of giving up your former role and making a broader contribution to the company. It’s not just about how you perform, but about the contributions of your entire team.
Beyond that, you lose the ability to take offense at the decisions given from above. You are part of the leadership team and must support not only the decisions, but also the goals and objectives of the executive team. Of course, this isn’t to say you can’t ask “why” or “how,” but those are questions reserved for meetings with other members of the leadership team. Your job is to execute and deliver what is expected.
Innovation, as they say, is the mother of necessity. Adaptation is its first cousin, and your promotion will bring more than a few challenges, but they will have just as many opportunities. Below are some tips for embracing your new role and becoming the effective leader you always wanted to be:
1. Develop a growth mindset.
A growth mindset has long been attributed to an individual’s belief in their ability to develop their own skills and talents. All it takes is hard work, dedication to learning and access to development opportunities. But a growth mindset doesn’t start and end on a personal level – or at least it shouldn’t, especially if you’ve taken on a leadership role. For a growth mindset to become a tool for effective leadership, that belief in the ability to develop and enhance your skills and talents must extend to your team.
Even in times of uncertainty, there are plenty of opportunities for your team members to learn and grow. Of course they will make mistakes, but that’s part of the process. Learning takes some trial and error. It also requires attention to the process of whatever employees do, not just the results. Therefore, give room for experimentation within your team and yourself. Leading by example is no longer something people just say. Better yet, disrupt your habits and routines. It will serve as a seed for change and prepare you for future disruptions.
More importantly, practice self-awareness. Understanding your motivations, limitations, and emotional states can help you understand those of the people you lead, helping you better identify where you or your team can learn and grow. It’s all about being more present, pushing through failures and having the persistence to come out the other side a little wiser and that much closer to your organizational goals.
2. Create a strong support network.
As mentioned earlier, becoming a new leader can dramatically change the dynamics of your working relationships. “Being a leader is often lonely and stressful,” says Merel van der Lei, CEO and CPO of Wyzetalk, an employee engagement solution specifically aimed at the frontline and labor sectors. “Your actions and behaviors will be scrutinized and you will likely feel that you cannot make mistakes or show uncertainty. As a new leader in another company, this is increased tenfold. Having a mentor, someone with an experienced and objective view, as a sounding board is crucial. It can support you to be successful, and it is often essential for personal reflection and mental well-being.”
While crucial, mentorship is only the first piece of a much larger puzzle. After all, a network of one is not really a network. You also want to form new business relationships and strengthen existing relationships to create a network that can support you as a leader. Keep up with people you already know, of course, but think of ways to provide value to those you hope to bond with. How can you be helpful? How can you provide support? What is unique about you or your talents that others would see as a resource?
According to Van der Lei, board members and investors are good people to deal with. She recommends sharing challenges and seeking advice from people to build strong connections. Once you start standing up for the people, your reputation will build on its own. Those in your network will view you as trustworthy and reliable, which has the distinct advantage of others being more willing to lend you a helping hand. It is also a great help in adding new business contacts to your network. Suddenly you get insights and information you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
3. Embrace adaptability, empathy and decision-making.
The skills leaders need vary from industry to industry and company to company, but there are three that are often seen as universal needs: adaptability, empathy and decision making, or more specifically, problem solving. The need for adaptability speaks for itself. Change is inevitable and you need to be able to recognize its signals in order to collect enough data to respond to those circumstances with the right plan.
Empathy, on the other hand, can be somewhat elusive, especially when it doesn’t come naturally. However, this interpersonal skill allows you to step into someone else’s shoes, which can provide insight into their needs. It also allows you to recognize where someone is coming from, informing your interactions, managing expectations and making sure they feel heard, which can benefit both inside and outside your organization.
Decision making and problem solving may seem obvious. No one needs to tell you that making decisions, sometimes difficult ones, is typical of managerial positions. But the skill goes much deeper than that. It’s about a willingness to go down those rabbit holes to explore ideas and concepts that can bring a different perspective to business, the market, the consumer, and so on.
Listen more than you speak to understand what’s ahead. Practice curiosity to get to know those around you and always return to that growth mindset you’ve been working on. Training each of these muscles can go a long way in building adaptability, empathy, and a willingness to solve even the most difficult problems.
Not everyone is cut out to lead, so acknowledge the fact that you didn’t just get that promotion, you deserved it for a reason. Things will change, which can be uncomfortable. Lean on that feeling and use it to develop the capabilities you need to become an effective leader.