When we step up into a role that requires us to lead other people, that’s a big change. And yet, oftentimes, we make the mistake of treating it as business as usual. We simply tack leading people on top of all the other things we need to get done. The problem with that approach is that often the people development aspects get left at the bottom of the pile and don’t get our attention.
In any change, there are things that we need to stop in order to create time for those things we need to start. As an ex-colleague used to say, space-rockets jettison parts of their body that they needed for take-off but no longer need if they are to fly higher; and the same is true of leaders. We need to jettison work that we no longer need to do, in order that our whole team can fly higher.
Skills for people development
In leading a team, we will need to start to have more conversations with those team members, building trust, providing direction if necessary, coaching, giving feedback, delegating well, recognising progress, acquiring resources to support them, and the list goes on.
I often come across organisations which assume that new leaders know how to put all of these skills into practice. That is rare, and the new leader is often left floundering, using a trial and error approach which takes up more time than they have; or they ignore the people development stuff as much as they can for fear of getting it wrong. So skills development is absolutely vital for new leaders.
So if we need to start doing all of those things, we need to stop doing other things rather than trying to do it all.
What is it we should stop? It depends on your role, but mostly you’ll need to stop doing what you did as an individual contributor – the technical parts of your old role. You are no longer paid to do those – but rather you are paid to develop your team to be able to take care of them. Your role is to create a pipeline of technical experts, not to be the technical expert.
Granted, your boss may still ask you to take responsibility for technical aspects, but those should be at a higher level of thinking, not the same as you always did. You’ll soon get bored from the lack of challenge and/or reach burnout, if you are trying to do it all.
As an individual contributor, you were responsible for meeting your own personal deadlines; as a leader of others, you will be responsible for much longer-term planning, project/programme management and budgeting. So that’s another aspect where your time allocation will differ.
Perhaps most important of all though is the way you think about work. As an individual contributor, you will have valued getting results through your own personal proficiency. As a leader of others, you will be concerned with getting results through others – assuming you want to leverage their capacity and intelligence. The success of the team should be paramount, over and above your own success.
Changes at every level
This is just the beginning. As you rise up the leadership ladder, your skills, time allocation and values will need to change again and again (The Leadership Pipeline, Charan, Drotter, Noel). You can’t assume that what got you here will get you there (Marshall Goldsmith).
It’s tough to figure it out alone though. Having a trusted coach to talk it through with can help you to untangle the thoughts in your head and figure out what will work for you in your situation, given your personality and the people and environment around you. Your coach will understand the transitions that happens when a person goes through change, and they can support you in making good endings and great new beginnings.
Executive Coach and Coach Supervisor Clare Norman is based in Southampton and also works in London and Bournemouth. Clare works with clients who want to make high impact transitions from one company to another, from one role to another, and when stepping up to more senior leadership levels.
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Clare coaches passionate people to live their best story.