Welcome to leadership! We're glad you decided to take up the call and be a leader! This is an exciting time in your life and there is a world of possibilities ahead of you! You might be wondering what to expect and what is a new leader? That's a great question. The answer is simple, being a leader will be both the most rewarding and the most difficult thing you will ever do.
You will experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The pride of seeing your team succeed and the pressure of answering for their failures. You will have sleepless, anxiety filled nights filled with worry and surreal moments of calm even when your world is crashing around you. If we had to sum it up in a single statement it's this.
Leadership is a balancing act and the leader is the pivot point on the seesaw of life
You will experience tremendous highs and terrible lows throughout your leadership journey. Whether that is in your schools or the companies you work for. The good new is, as the leader, the severity of the ups and downs is often in your control. If that sounds like a lot of pressure to you, that's actually a good sign. That means before you've even dealt with your first dilemma, you have the emotional maturity to understand how serious and important leadership is.
Oh and before we forget to mention it, growing as a leader lasts a lifetime. There is no point in your leadership journey where you should be saying "I've arrived."
What follows is a guide for new leaders. In this article we do our best to impart all the wisdom we wish we were told when we were new leaders. Good leaders learn from their mistakes, great leaders learn from other's mistakes as well as their own. We hope that you learn from our mistakes and avoid some of the problems they caused, ultimately making you a better leader, faster.
What is your why and policy as a new leader?
Any new leaders just setting out, would be well served to determine why they are trying to be a leader and what their goal is. Think of it like your own personal mission and vision statement. This might seem silly (and difficult) at first but we promise that it is a valuable first exercise on the path to building your leadership muscles. It is highly recommended that you make this as simple as possible. The simpler it is, the easier it is to remember and explain to other people.
It is important to note, that while this might seem overwhelming, it only needs to suit your life as far out as you can see. What that means is, if you are say, 14 you might you might not be able to envision a life beyond high school yet. If you are say, 44 with a 16 year old child, you might not be able to envision a life beyond getting the schools they applied to. The 'why' for each of these individuals will also be extremely different.
You will change your why and policy as you get older and continue to suit it to where you are in your life and your leadership journey. It doesn't matter what it is, it is personal to you but you need to have one. It is what will keep you going when times are tough or you reach moments of indecision.
Your title will only take you so far
One of the coolest feelings as a leader is the moment you get 'the title.' Whether that title is manager, captain, team leader or whatever it might be, it comes with so much more than just words. Now people "have" to listen to you and that means you now hold a tremendous amount of power. No matter the level of leader, at its basic function, leadership is the ability to have others do what you want them to do.
Many new leaders fall into the trap of thinking that the title is all they need. They begin exercising their formal authority ordering people around and don't think beyond this simple transaction between leader and subordinate. This doesn't just apply to bad leaders either as you might be assuming. Even promising new leaders with great intentions fall victim to the formal authority trap.
Leaders must find ways to connect with their team members and those that follow them and get people to listen to them because they want to, not because they have to. We have written a whole article on the best ways to do this called How to Avoid Exercising Your Formal Authority and we highly recommend you head there after reading this article!
You are always on center stage
Whether you like it or not, everything you do from the moment you become a leader will be judged. If you don't believe that, think of everything you have ever said or thought about your boss. How they reacted to something you did or didn't do, how they acted in the last meeting and the perception you and others have about how much work they actually do.
Well now your boss is you. Everything you used to think about your boss, your people now think about you. That might seem unfair but it is the reality of leadership. It also doesn't have to be a negative thing, you can use how people think of you to your advantage as a leader. If you build up enough goodwill with your team and have strong lines of communication with them, you will know how they are thinking and feeling.
The point to remember is, nothing you do happens in a vacuum. Everything you do has consequences and even if unobserved by others directly has some kind of an impact on your team and those around you. It is like being on a giant stage performing a one person show and the audience is everyone you interact with. Do they leave the show each day feeling happy and leaving 5 star reviews or are they asking for their money back?
Research yourself and be self aware
All great leaders must have a firm grasp on themselves before they can ever hope to lead a team successfully. Much like growing as a leader, this is a life long process and your knowledge of self will change as often as you yourself change. The key here is to recognize it when it happens. Know what your strengths are and more importantly what your opportunities are.
If you don't what your own strengths and weaknesses, it will be hard to gauge other's strengths and weaknesses. This is a critical part of leadership, gauging these abilities within your team members and developing them. This is performance management at its core, understanding what makes your team tick and guiding them in the direction they need to go.
A wise leader should surround themself with team members that have complimentary skills to their own. Don't be afraid to surround yourself with those that are better than you at important tasks. If you are great at laying out a vision for your team but bad with details, complement your skill set with someone that handles details well. There are certain characteristics that all leaders must have and we go into detail with them in our article: Leadership Characteristics and Habits You Need to be a Successful Leader.
Build your personal brand and policy
All new leaders must now start to be aware of their leadership brand. They must think of themselves as a brand and how to build it through gaining trust and followers. When you begin to think of yourself as a brand, you become more aware of how what you do and say impacts those around you. It allows you think of more than just how you feel in the moment and allow you to focus strategically on what will happen to your brand by what you will say or do. Another way to look at is, you personal policy on how you will act or behave.
Will the things you do on a regular basis help or hurt your brand? How did your last presentation impact your leadership brand? Did the way you behaved at the last group outing violate your personal policy? New leaders must be aware of how their actions and words influence how people think about them as a leader. Just like you react to commercials or ads based on your perception of that brand; so to do your people react to the leadership brand you are selling each and every day.
Develop your fluency in all of the leadership styles.
Science journalist Daniel Goleman first came up with the concept of the styles of leadership in the early 2000's. The six styles are as follows:
Visionary — mobilize people toward a vision. Works best when a clear direction or change is needed.
Coaching — develop people for the future. Works best when helping people and building long-term strength.
Affiliative — create emotional bonds and harmony. Works best to heal rifts in teams or motivate people in stressful times.
Democratic — build consensus through participation. Works best to create consensus or get input.
Pacesetting — expect excellence and self-direction. Works best to get quick results from a highly competent team.