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A Leadership Guidebook for New Leaders

Hello New Leaders!

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 as 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.

pages and books tacked onto a wall to display words of wisdom for new leaders

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.


New leaders must know their what and why

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

New leaders standing on center stage seen from a distance

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 know 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, your 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.

  • Commanding — demand immediate compliance. Works best in crisis or with problematic people.

If you want to go way more in depth on these leadership styles, check out Daniel Goleman's book!

New leaders must be fluent in all six of these leadership styles so that they can be masters at situational leadership. Situational leadership means being able to adapt your leadership to the environment, the people or the situation as needed. This means that you can effectively lead any individual in any situation at any time.

In today's ever changing world this skill is crucial to your success. There is a fantastic book written by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson on the topic of situational leadership called the One Minute Manager that is a quick read and is very beneficial to new leaders!

Don't let your pride keep you from growing

Pride is a powerful emotion. It can drive you to greater heights and elevate your work to perfection thanks to the care and attention your pride brings. Pride is also a double edged sword, especially with new leaders. Pride can keep you from growing your new skillset and challenging yourself to grow. This is often unintentional which makes it so hard to identify. You sort of get stuck in the flow of doing things and 'forget' to keep growing your new skills.

While it is a danger for new leaders, experienced leaders often struggle with pride. The challenge is, so much of the leadership material out there today is geared towards new leaders that experienced leaders tune it out. Perhaps you could fall into the trap of thinking that the newer leaders that come behind you don't have anything to offer you. Great leaders can learn from anything or anyone if they are willing to try. Develop the personal policy of continually growing while still new in your career and it will serve you well later on!

You will think differently about the world now

Now that you are a leader, you will begin to see the world around you differently. It will seem strange at first but a sign of maturation in growing leaders is when the actions, words and activities they used or engaged in start to change. The more you grow as a leader and manage new people, new projects and new tasks, the more you start to see the value the leader brings.

As an example, the more experienced General Manager has to constantly tell the new shift leader "stop thinking like an employee." The first three months as a new manager, it is a real struggle to stop thinking like an hourly employee and start thinking like the leader.

This is a completely natural transition and should be embraced. When you stop thinking about the world around you as an individual that only cares about your individual needs and start thinking about the bigger picture, you are becoming a leader. That is when the real transformation can begin. You can begin to develop your new policy around how you will view situations.

Those around you will treat you differently

If you are doing the previous step properly, then those around you will begin to treat you differently. In the work environment, when you don't join in on the gossip, when you stop bashing your boss or thinking about problems as a 'you vs them' proposition, people will notice. This is not a bad thing! This means you are starting to become a leader. Leader's must think about the bigger picture and not just about how the issues of the day impact them.

This is one of the absolute hardest transitions to make as a growing leader. Friendships will be tested and sometimes lost. New friendships will be made but understanding why some fade away is important. Your role as the leader is to be concerned about the well being of everyone on your team. Some people won't like that or understand that that is your new role. This is really hard to cope with sometimes, especially in schools where a new student leader takes over a club or sports team.

Communicating expectations and discussing how relationship dynamics will change is key. Talking about the challenges of your new relationship dynamics is great way to help keep your transition from employee to leader from being a relationship killing move.

Each decision carries more weight

new leaders pushing a rock up a hill with a city and sunset in the background

As you continue your transformation into a leader and you begin to see things differently you will soon discover the weight of your own choices. When you decide to do something, anything as a leader, you will be mindful of so many of the things we've discussed in this article. The fact that you are always on center stage and you are being watched by those around you should keep you cognizant of the weight of your choices.

How will your team react to the conversations you take part in, how will they handle that new practice you've implemented? You will quickly gauge the effectiveness of your decisions by how your team reacts to your leadership. You must remember to be mindful of the broader impact your choices will have and how they will impact your personal leadership brand. Understanding this is often very sobering and is a healthy and natural part of maturing as a leader.

Leaders must take action

Analysis paralysis is a common leadership phrase because it is so easy to get trapped by it. Especially in today's ever changing, complicated world. Gone are the days where leaders just told people what to do and didn't care about the consequences. The world has become so nuanced and intertwined, not to mention small, that it can feel paralyzing.

You don't want to offend anyone or be disrespectful or tone deaf to the realities of your people. The approach that many leaders take is to gather opinions, facts, data points and feedback from anyone and everyone. There is a time and a place for that but eventually, the leader must act and make a choice.

As a new leader, don't get so focused on preparing to make a choice that you forget to make a choice.

Leaders struggle with self doubt

When you do start to make choices, inevitably you will wonder whether those choices were good or not. Wise leaders will doubt their own actions and words because they understand the weight they carry. This can be healthy and a great practice to question yourself IF you don't become consumed by it.

Introspection and an examination of your words and actions is a next level practice that all new leaders would be wise to incorporate into their routines early. However, as we discuss in our article on leadership characteristics you should be kind to yourself when doing this examination. You are a human being that is doing the best they can but you will make mistakes.

Leaders will make mistakes

Guess what? You are not perfect and you never will be. You will make mistakes, wrong choices and say the wrong thing sometimes. How you respond after these mistakes is the difference between a mature and growing leader and a bad one. When you make a mistake, own it. Don't try to hide it, lie about it or pretend it didn't happen. Acknowledge it, apologize for it if need be and move on.

Your team knows you aren't perfect and will forgive you for mistakes as long as you take ownership of them. Admitting to mistakes is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of maturity.

Treat feedback as a free gift

A new leader sitting in a chair getting feedback from another leader

This is intentionally the last piece of advice in this article because we truly believe that it is extremely important to your success as a leader. Leader's must treat feedback like a gift because it is. The natural reaction for so many of us is to get defensive towards negative feedback and give too much weight to positive feedback.

As new leaders, you must keep feedback in perspective. If someone cares enough about you and your success to give you feedback, be grateful for it! Even if you completely disagree with the feedback, thank them for it and have a conversation surrounding where they are coming from. Wise leaders listen to the feedback that is given to them and puts it in perspective.

Don't give negative feedback too much power and the same goes for positive feedback. If someone gives you urgent feedback about about something that goes against your leadership brand, work to correct it immediately. If someone gives you negative feedback because they are having a bad day or if someone compliments you on your great hair, thank them for it and move on. You don't want to allow every piece of feedback you receive the chance to alter your mood or day.


This topic is so vast we could set up an education type program so we could impart to you as "students" but some things are better left to be experienced. At the end of the day though schools are great at teaching students, but experience is the best teacher for new leaders.

So many of these sections have come from mistakes we have made throughout our careers and the hope is that you can learn from them and avoid making them yourself.

Always be learning, never stop looking for opportunities to grow yourself and your leadership brand. If you stay humble and work hard, then a whole world of opportunities lay before you as new leaders!

We love hearing from our readers! Leave us a comment below and tell us your thoughts!

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