Are you a first-level leader? Do you manage a team of individual contributors who don’t have direct reports of their own?
Then you know some of the challenges of making the leap to management.
You really want to be a good manager, but your training for that role may be light or even non-existent. You really want your team to succeed, but you may not have the resources and support you’d like.
My best advice? Avoid the temptation of trying to do too much at once. Focus on a handful of tried-and-true practices that will bring simplicity, clarity, and success to your work.
An excellent guide is Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team. Written by leadership consultant Victoria Roos Olsson and two of her colleagues (Scott Miller and Todd Davis) at organizational performance firm FranklinCovey, the book highlights the best practices of leaders who earn trust, build strong teams, and consistently produce top results.
The six practices include:
- Develop a Leader’s Mindset—Learn the critical mindset shifts from those of an individual contributor to those of a leader.
- Hold Regular 1-on-1s—Conduct these conversations effectively to increase engagement of team members, better understand team issues, and help team members solve problems.
- Set Up Your Team to Get Results—Learn to create clarity about team goals and results, delegate responsibility to team members, and provide the right level of support.
- Create a Culture of Feedback—Give and receive consistent, honest feedback to build confidence and competence.
- Lead Your Team Through Change—Take specific actions to help team members navigate and accelerate through change to improve performance.
- Manage Your Time and Energy—Use weekly planning to focus on the most important priorities.
I interviewed Victoria Roos Olsson to dig deeper into the mindsets, behaviors, and practices that enable leaders—and their teams—to perform at peak levels.
Rodger Dean Duncan: You cite Harvard Business Review research showing that people often assume their first leadership roles at about age 30 but don’t get their first leadership training until more than a decade later. What do you see as the implications of that?
Victoria Roos Olsson: That research shows a gap of 12 years in which new leaders are trying to “figure it out” on their own. Unfortunately, there are many organizations in which people are left to struggle their leadership roles without proper support.
As someone who consults with organizations to create great business results, I’m amazed that so many organizations are prepared to take the risk of not developing their first level and unit leaders. These front-line managers have become even more critical to the success of businesses today.
As multiple layers of leadership in organizations have collapsed, with this new flat management structure the vast majority of people are reporting to managers who now assume unprecedented influence and responsibility. And with this change, they are managing more people—the majority of the workforce. They have a significant influence on the quantity and quality of the work their team produces, some of which includes the entire customer experience.
Duncan: What are the most common challenges faced by first-level leaders and new managers?
Olsson: I often ask first-level leaders and new managers: (1) what they enjoy the most about their leadership role, and (2) what they find most challenging. All around the world, two very common responses to the question are: (1) they love to help their team grow and develop, and (2) it’s frustrating for them when their team members don’t have the same level of engagement for tasks as they do. This is understandable, as many new leaders loved the job they had before they were promoted. Their engagement was very high, which was the main reason they got promoted into leadership in the first place. But now in their new role they realize that not everyone on their team is as engaged. And suddenly it’s not enough for them to be engaged. Now, they need to help others become engaged as well. That’s the key to success.
Additionally, if you have the common mindset of achieving results on your own, it’s important to accept once and for all that your work is no longer just about you. It’s about your team. It’s time to let go of your past successes. You earned the leader’s chair because you performed at a superior level. Take a victory lap. Now, let it all go and focus on the job ahead.
Duncan: What are the two or three skills that are most helpful in addressing these challenges?
Olsson: The key is to start with your mindset. It might sound easy. But very often when we want to succeed in something new, we draw from our past experiences, which for many new leaders is what they did in their previous roles. They were the excellent sales person, the best customer service representative, the most talented engineer. But now, there are new leadership skills that will make them succeed. In my experience, this mindset shift makes all the difference.
Secondly, leaders create culture in every interaction, email, meeting, speech, or text. They can also destroy it in those interactions by talking about people behind their backs, using an inappropriate tone in an email or a text, failing to give people credit, ignoring someone in the hallway, or complaining about company policies.
Because you’re a leader, you’re noticed. Every time you communicate, every time you open your mouth, you create culture. And, 1-on-1s are arguably the best way to create the conditions for high engagement and ensure your team members are connected to you as their leader. And holding them regularly and effectively will help you ramp up quickly in your new role.
And if you’re a leader of other leaders, you need to be there and support your newly promoted managers. You need to coach them and celebrate their success in their managerial assignments, rather than uplifting their individual contributions.
This column was first published by Forbes, where Dr. Duncan is a regular contributor.
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