In my work with leaders, one of the biggest challenges managers face when they are promoted to a leadership position is shifting from using their technical expertise that they were previously rewarded for as an individual contributor, to focusing on the leadership competencies required to be effective in their new job.
This is especially hard for leaders who were promoted from within. It’s very easy and tempting to keep doing what you were doing before because you know how to do the jobs of your team members. In addition, these were the skills you utilized to earn the promotion, and we naturally think that continuing to use those skills will lead to more success.
Even leaders who mentally know they should be focusing on the leadership elements of their job often can’t resist the temptation to stay in the weeds. They feel like they are accomplishing things throughout their day, but these smaller tasks and emergencies are not the right things. These managers often make excuses as to why they can’t find time to coach, develop, connect, and provide feedback, because they have convinced themselves that there is no time. They lack the mindset and skills to shift into the key result areas necessary for their success.
To be successful, leaders should focus on the three pillars of exceptional leadership:
Create clarity: Leaders must consistently share the vision and the path for employees, so they know where to focus their attention. Leaders need to inspire employees by sharing how their contributions fit into the strategic goals, and then set clear expectations, goals, and deadlines. In many cases, managers may need to create clarity daily, so employees understand the priorities. This requires the skill of zooming in and out. Zooming out to see the broader strategic picture of what needs to be done, while anticipating obstacles and adjusting priorities, and then zooming in to focus yourself and your staff on what needs to be done in the short-term.
Caretake the culture: Developing relationships with each team members and understanding how to adjust your leadership style to bring out each employee’s best performance is an important element of success. Leaders should be spending a significant amount of time coaching, developing, and providing honest, consistent, and meaningful feedback. When an employee struggles, managers need to facilitate a respectful, honest discussion and provide support and direction. Leaders also need to be approachable, and foster cohesiveness and constructive conflict among their staff. Your job as a leader is to create a positive and results-driven culture, while reinforcing and managing the company values.
Consistency and results: Every company is in business to achieve results. Leaders must model accountability, create structures that instill accountability, be on top of your own priorities, as well as continuously focusing your staff on the short term and long-term goals that lead to results. Leaders must be able to coach employees to focus, remove roadblocks, and make timely and thorough decisions.
Continuing to work in the technical holds leaders back from making the necessary shift to creating success in a leadership role. This results in new (and tenured) managers not focusing on the areas that are essential to leadership success like coaching team members, building connections, facilitating results, adjusting your leadership style, and delegating. These are all essential elements for successful leadership, but most managers were not taught how to do these things effectively. When you’ve had no training or preparation for this shift, it’s natural to just do what you were doing before.
I call this managing by default. Managing by default is staying in the weeds and doing what you have always done. Operating this way results in sabotaging your success as a leader. Although there are many negative habits that can hold leaders back from success, in my experience, new managers (and tenured managers and executives) struggle with five areas that tend to keep them from being influential and successful leaders. Most of these five saboteurs have one thing in common—they often stem from managers focusing on technical expertise.
- Lack of self awareness: Understanding your own style and preferences, as well as the differing preferences and styles of your team, is important so you can adjust your style for each employee. Many managers lack the self-awareness about the impact their behaviors have on their staff. This typically results in a more transactional, task focused style of leadership.
- Lack of focus: When managers are focused on the technical, they don’t prioritize the time necessary to coach, provide feedback, and lead their team. Staying in the technical creates a cycle of busyness that makes it difficult to be successful. These leaders are not focusing on the right things, and are activity focused rather than people focused.
- Lack of delegation: Many managers mistakenly believe that their technical expertise is the value they bring to the credit union. Again, these managers tend to focus on activities, and fail to delegate the necessary tasks that will free up their time to create clarity and caretake the culture. Some leaders also feel they have to control everything to ensure the best outcomes. This results in micromanaging their team instead of empowering ownership on their team by delegating appropriately.
- Lack of team engagement: Many managers are more transactional and focused on outcomes, and don’t spend any or enough time on leading people. When managers are in the weeds and dealing with issues and emergencies all day, they don’t have time to focus on relationships. In addition, some managers don’t have the skills to properly engage their team, and take a traditional approach to management, which is rarely effective in today’s work environment.
- Conflict avoidant: When leaders avoid dealing with challenging or underperforming employees, it takes a toll on their team and decreases productivity and engagement. Putting off important conversations allows things to fester and frustrates other employees. A critical element of leadership is dealing with tough situations timely, so that you preserve the positive culture in your organization.
Leaders who struggle with any one of these five saboteurs will find it challenging to be effective long-term, and many managers struggle with more than one. Exceptional leaders understand that their responsibility is to facilitate results from their team through fostering connections, consistent coaching, and feedback, and by focusing their energy and time on the three pillars of leadership.