Are you stepping into a formal leadership role for the first time? Or maybe you’re advising people who are?

Well, I was recently reminded about just how challenging this can be.

My husband, who is a basketball coach, came home and told me about his new team captain (she’s a senior in high school) and how he’s helping her to become a better leader for the rest of the girls.

Then I got a call from a brilliant academic who is now asked to lead fellow faculty members for the first time. He’s in his 40s. He said to me, “May, I’ve got a PhD in my own field of excellence, but now I need that PhD in leadership – where is it?”

Whether you’re a high school senior, or you’re a brilliant academic in your 40s, or somewhere in between, any of us could be in this position of becoming a new leader.

What can we do to help in this situation so that people can hit the ground running?

Well, here are seven things you can do and ways to think about it.

1. It’s not about you

It’s really about the team and the mission, so make sure you know what the mission is. What was the mission that you were asked to come in and achieve? That can be a really effective rallying point for the team.

At the same time when you’re doing this, make sure you bring your ‘big self’. This is what my father always talks about. Your big self is the part of you that thinks about what is doing the right thing, from the standpoint of the team, the mission, the organization.

And leave your ‘small self’ to the side. That’s the part of us that’s our ego, that feels compelled to convince everybody how smart we are, how talented we are and how well we deserve to be that new leader.

2. Learn the care and feeding of your team

Everybody is motivated by something different. So you’ve got to talk to them to find out what motivates them and get a sense.

As an example, in the gym, some people are motivated by things like, “Hey, come on Mark, rep it out. Come on!”. But I’m not motivated by that. When they start doing that to me, I start cracking up. I think it’s hilarious! I’m not one of those big chunky football players – American football players that is.

You want to treat people the way that they want to be treated, which may not be the same as the way you want to be treated, or the next person.

3. Let people know that you are on their side

This has everything to do with the way you talk to them, the tone you use and the stance that you have – the mental stance that you come from.

So instead of doing what I call, ‘Tell and Yell’ – on the basketball floor, it would like saying, “Don’t do that! Get over here!”, that kind of negative energy – instead, you want to be positive and encouraging. That might look like, “Hey, come on, let’s come over here. This is the way we want to do it.” People can get excited about that.

When I was in my first leadership role, I also had to let people know that I was on their side because I was just promoted from a peer level. I sat down with each of them individually to say, “What does success mean for you? How can we do that together?” I wanted them to know, and I told them, “I will do everything I can to help you become successful.”

4. Focus – in two ways

First on the business: focus on just three priorities and getting those done. People can really rally around three priorities, and you will feel much more in control when you don’t scatter yourself too much.

Then, the other way to focus is to focus on guiding principles and don’t make too many rules. When you set rules then you have to enforce them, and you have to hold people accountable for them. So if you’ve got this rule that, “Nobody can travel without my sign-off,” well, all of a sudden you’re the road block, or you can become the bad person in all of this.

5. Be calm and patient

Not only with your team, but also with yourself.

When you’re new at something, you’re going to make mistakes. So you want to cut yourself some slack and don’t get frustrated. When you do get frustrated, don’t let it spill over into how you deal with your team.

So back to the basketball example, if the captain’s shots aren’t going in, she’s frustrated with her own game. She still has to be out there encouraging others to make their shots.

6. Create an environment where everybody can be at their best

This is one where there’s mutual respect, support and trust.

Remember, these are simple things that can really make that difference; like, are we listening to each other? Do we talk to each other and talk things through? Are we making sure we don’t waste people’s time?

Also remember that, whatever the culture of the organization, you have a lot of power over the local weather that you create.

7. Create a support network for yourself

When you’re a new leader, it can feel pretty lonely. So, you can form an informal network where you have other people that are in similar situations to yourself, or people who are further advanced that you can go to for advice. Put that network together.

You might even want to have formal support. You could hire a coach, or set up times specifically with your boss or with a formal mentor, to really go through some of your questions and concerns, and they can act as a sounding board along the way.

So those are seven things you can do to really hit the ground running as a new leader.

Now, I’d like to get comments and shares:

  • If you're an experienced leader: what’s the best advice you give to new leaders?
  • If you’re a new leader: what are the biggest challenges that you’re facing right now?

Leave a comment so that we can help each other.