The 1st Time Manager

How daunting is it the first time you are appointed to be responsible and accountable for other people's performance? It is quite a mind-shift from only being concerned about your own actions and outputs to a position where you have to start answering for someone else's actions and outputs!

A lot of us crave a more senior role and often this comes with management responsibility, but how often are we given the right tools and environment to learn and succeed as an effective leader? The answer, in many cases, is not very often.

When you are put into a leadership role you are all of a sudden thrust into the spotlight whether you like it or not because you know that before you became a manager you watched your manager's every move and action; dissecting their behaviours to a point where you knew them better than they know themselves! This happens to you when you become a manager.

Everyone will act slightly differently in this spotlight. Some will revel in it while for others it will shed light on some big flaws - were they ready in the first place!? Slowly, we are eking out the scenario where you became the manager simply because you were around long enough or were the subject matter expert; for we know now that these attributes alone do not make good leaders! However, these dinosaurs still exist and in some cases they themselves have evolved but others have grown a very thick scaly skin in the name of self-preservation! Don't become like them!

If you find yourself in a managerial role for the first time, you need to understand what the difference is between a manager and a leader! For me the difference is simple; a leader is someone who has followers - in other words people choose to follow you regardless of your title or position in the org chart. If people only listen to your instruction because you have been assigned as the person who signs off their time sheet and approves their holiday then you need to reassess.

Now that you're comfortable with the idea of what the difference is, you have to start embarking on the art of leadership. You need to start asking yourself what you can do to allow people to easily choose to follow you. One thing I always try and do early on is to get to know each team member as a person, not as a job title. Trust and relationship building are hallmark skills of a great leader. It's not always easy and quick to build but it is worth every bit of investment.

There are plenty of books out there on leadership and I'd recommend reading as many as you can, but I'd also add that becoming a great leader isn't something you can obtain by merely reading books. You need to practice and be brave. We've started seeing and hearing about how leaders need to be vulnerable - what does this mean? It does not necessarily mean being weak, it means being accountable. When things go wrong, you need to be the first one to accept responsibility - the next time one of your team members under performs point it out to them and ask them what you are doing wrong as a leader. Being a leader means you are working for your team (not the other way) and this is the mindset that will allow you to keep evolving. As soon as you start thinking that people work for you, your effectiveness drops like a lead balloon, you'll stop innovating and start blaming your team.

You need to continually ask yourself the same few questions over and over. Are you creating a safe environment for your team to harness their full potential? Are you creating a space where it's safe to fail and where everyone feels free to challenge without recourse? If not, seek ways in which you can start building or improving the situation towards this nirvana.

The thing to remember is that you will never stop learning as a leader. You will and have to keep evolving! Why? Because people change - they are not robots and they have different moods, stresses and anxieties. Actively being involved with your teams' emotional state is part of your leadership role, you need to accept that. If you don't want to deal with difficult situations then don't accept a leadership role in the first place because you will be doing more harm to yourself and those around you than any good.

When you get into a leadership role your job is to make other people's lives easier not harder! This does not mean that you shouldn't challenge them, but the challenge needs to be with the intent of contributing to their growth - not yours - and their growth needs to be aligned with the team and organisational goals.

Management is easy anyone can do it. Leadership is hard, it takes work and even once you think you've made it you can't take the privilege for granted. Oh and if you want my really simple rule for being a good leader...don't be a dick.

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