Whether you’re a long-standing leader or a newly promoted manager, think back on your transition from individual contributor to new leader. How prepared were you to step into a leadership role? Did your company offer leadership development support? Were there clear expectations of your new role? Did you feel confident in your ability to be successful?
If you’re like most leaders, your path to management was not paved with leadership training, mentorship, and other critical support. You independently navigated the transition from a position where your focus was primarily on your own efforts, to a role with responsibility for inspiring, developing, and leading a team.
As you well know, leading a team requires a very different skill set from leading yourself. It’s no longer just about you and your individual performance– it’s about the team. In your new role, you might not be the rock star you were in your previous role. It can be difficult to give up that glory. You might also miss being on the front lines, practicing the skills you’ve mastered over the years. Additionally, the increased exposure that accompanies a higher-level position often creates anxiety, leaving you longing for the comfort zone of your previous role.
Making a transition to a new leadership role at any level is complex, anxiety-provoking, and even messy at times. Expectations aren’t always clear, players and politics change, and the stakes are much higher. Despite your previous experience, without a clear strategy and development plan to help you maximize your new leadership role, you could find yourself set up to fail. As Marshall Goldsmith says, “What got you here won’t get you there.”
As you embark on any new leadership role, follow these three steps:
Leverage company resources
Some companies offer formalized leadership development programs to prepare you for a bigger leadership role. In some cases, these programs are publicly promoted or provided to you as part of an orientation/transition period. In other cases, you may need to seek them out.
Do not wait to be told! Proactively ask your manager or HR leader about the types of development support that are available to you. Even if your company doesn’t have its own leadership training and development offerings, it might be willing to pay for you to seek support elsewhere.
Invest in yourself
Be willing to make an investment in your professional development, whether or not your company provides you with leadership training and support, Attend relevant conferences, training programs, and workshops to gain new leadership skills and learn from the experiences of others.
Even some of the best leadership development programs are inherently limited because you are typically learning how to lead in a vacuum. You’re placed in a short-lived, artificial environment rather than learning to lead in context. To receive consistent support as you tackle the challenges of your new leadership role, consider engaging an executive coach, mentor, or other ongoing resource.
Ask for help
Nobody, especially a new leader, is expected to know everything. Regardless of your level of experience, you will undoubtedly face moments when the path before you is unclear. Don’t go it alone.
If you’re uncertain about how to proceed, clarify expectations with your leadership team. Clear communication is critical to your success. Build a relationship with your manager immediately and make it a habit to communicate regularly. Leverage your peers and direct reports as well. Particularly if you’re new to the group or organization, they will have insights and experience that will be highly valuable to you.
Above all, be a leader in your own career. Great companies offer great leadership resources but it’s incumbent upon you to seek them out. If you’re not getting the support you need to be successful in your leadership role, take action to get it. Don’t wait for someone else to act on your behalf.