By Ellie Hearne

"I don't feel comfortable saying this, but there's a lot of stuff other managers know that I don't."

 

It's a common refrain among new leaders. So much so, that I compiled a list:

 

Things I hear from clients who have just stepped into leadership roles

  • "I'm great at [shipping products/selling/marketing/engineering/insert focus area here], but I've never had to manage anyone before and I'm out of my depth."
  • "I was promoted from within and now I'm the boss of my old team - I'm basically managing my friends. I don't know how to do it."
  • "Managing is very different from my last role. It's a completely different skillset."
  • "It's hard for me to let go of projects - now I'm supposed to delegate, but that doesn't come easily to me."
  • "I've been in leadership roles for a while, but I've always managed people who are like me - people who require minimal supervision. Now I have to develop a team of diverse personalities. It's hard."
  • "It's just quicker if I do the work myself."

How does this happen? And how can we overcome it?

 

A systemic challenge.

Let's start with why.

We typically promote people not because they are great at developing teams and delivering feedback, but because they are strong individual contributors and they (hopefully) have the potential to learn the rest.

That part is key, and it's worth repeating:

1. New leaders, by definition, lack leadership experience. Even the best leaders struggled in their early days - and frequently still do. The strongest leaders know that potential failure is the price of trying and that there's always room to improve.

2. They. can. learn. Guess what? Leadership skills can be taught. And most successful business leaders get a little coaching or help from time to time.

 

So how does one learn to lead? 

First, recognize that everyone and every circumstance is different. And that leadership is a journey, as clichéd as that may sound. 

 

Define your leadership style... And don't let it define you.

There's only so much you can learn from a blog post, so I'll limit myself to one technique of use to aspiring leaders:

Ask yourself what you value in a leader. A compelling vision? Clear direction? Approachability? Pace-setting style?

 

Then tear that up and remind yourself that what you value and respond well to in a leader may not be the best thing for the team you're leading. 

Of course, it's important to consider how you are perceived and to hone your self-awareness (no matter your role). The point is to use that to best serve your team, because it's not just about you anymore. Your wins are theirs and theirs are yours.

Your success is no longer defined by your direct contributions - it's defined by those of your team. And that's an adjustment for any strong performer. 


 

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Ellie Hearne is a leadership-communications expert and founder of Pencil or Ink. Over the years she has coached leaders at Google, Apple, Starbucks, Spotify, Marriott, and numerous small businesses and startups. Ellie can be reached herehere, and here.