The Most Difficult Challenge When Starting a New Leadership Role
When you're in a new leadership role, there are all sorts of challenges that come with it. It could be figuring out your new job, winning over new stakeholders or simply transitioning out of your old job so you can take on the new responsibilities.
In my experience, the most important challenge to overcome and the one that people find the most difficult is showing up as a leader at the next level.
This means elevating yourself in areas like communicating with impact and gravitas, influencing outcomes, establishing a senior profile, and thinking strategically and having a vision.
In a new role, the spotlight’s on you
Showing you’re capable of leading at the next level is crucial for your career advancement. Especially when coming into a new and bigger role, you have to demonstrate you can fill those bigger shoes, deliver results through others, and handle complex situations with savvy.
All while the spotlight is on you with everyone watching to see how you’ll do in the face of substantially greater expectations, responsibilities and challenges.
What makes it so difficult to show up as a next-level leader?
What I've discovered through my own career and from coaching the corporate professionals in my Next Level Leadership Program is that there are five main challenges you face when you’re taking on a new leadership role.
1. You don’t know all the rules (yet)
Stepping up into a new role of any kind at the next level means there are going to be new opportunities as well as new pitfalls. The thing is, you won't yet know all the rules of the road and you won't necessarily know what to expect.
It’s like playing video games where you've just made it to the next level up and you don't quite know what is going to come next, whether it’s hidden gold coins that score extra points or landmines that bounce you out of the game.
Similarly, when you take on a new and bigger role it’s easy to miss opportunities and fall into traps that a seasoned professional would easily sidestep.
2. The stakes are higher
The second difficulty is the stakes are a lot higher, not only for you personally but also for your team and your organization.
Your sphere of influence has been expanded, so the decisions you make have a greater impact on the organization’s results. You’re managing more people so your leadership style and choices will have a greater ripple effect, good or bad.
You may be responsible for a broader range of functions, which means some likely will be new to you. You can no longer be the subject matter expert, yet people are looking to you for leadership. And everybody is counting on you to make an impact.
3. Doing things for the first time
In a new leadership role, you're probably doing a lot of things for the first time, whether that's thinking strategically at this next level, managing people or any number of other responsibilities.
Maybe you managed a small team before and now you're managing a large team. Perhaps you managed a large team before but now you're managing managers. Or you could be asked to chair meetings or represent the organization in a high-stakes negotiation.
When you’re regularly doing things for the first time, you’re automatically outside of your comfort zone. This can chip away at your confidence, which leads us to the fourth difficulty.
4. It’s easy to doubt yourself
When you're doing a lot of things for the first time, you're bound to have some things that don't go quite as well as you would like. In my case, I even made mistakes – ones that seemed big at the time. Like putting all my efforts into a deal that never happened and taking for granted a key stakeholder.
This can cause you to doubt yourself and start questioning your judgement. It can even turn into full-blown imposter syndrome, which is never helpful!
5. You can’t be sure who to trust
Finally, in a new, next-level role, you can't be sure who to trust to give you good advice. Your old network probably isn’t fit for purpose now you’re at an elevated level in the organization.
Your new stakeholders have their own agenda which may not be aligned with yours. And the politics at this next level are likely to be more complex than what you’ve experienced before.
If you’re facing these challenges in your new leadership role, welcome to the club
It’s all a part of your career progression and you will get past them. The key is to recognize the challenges and learn how to handle them.
So, how do you overcome these challenges?
The number one thing you can do to be successful in your new and bigger role is to have a “Brain Trust” – a group of people you can trust to help you navigate your path in the right way so you can lead and succeed at that higher level.
I wish I had a Brain Trust during those crucial periods in my career when I was levelling up at work.
In my next post, I’ll share the difference it makes for your career and well-being to have a Brain Trust, and three qualities to look for when forming yours.
In the meantime, which of these challenges do you face in your leadership and what do you do to overcome them?