By Keith Rollag, author of What to Do When You’re New: How to Be Comfortable, Confident and Successful in New Situations
So you’ve been promoted and suddenly find yourself leading your friends, teammates and peers. How should you approach your new role?
Over the past 20 years I’ve been studying the new leader experience, trying to understand what leads to new leader success in organizations. I’ve interviewed hundreds of new leaders (and their managers) and have asked dozens to keep self-reflection diaries of their first few weeks on the job.
I’ve come to realize that new leaders often start with five misconceptions about what they need to do (or not do) to be successful in their new role. Each of the following misconceptions cause new leaders to think and act in ways that often undermine their ability to become productive, connected managers. Ask yourself if you’ve fallen in one of these assumption traps:
- “I must hit the ground running.” This sounds like a good strategy, but often this causes you to focus on completing your managerial tasks as quickly as possible from Day 1, rather than building the relationships you need to be successful long-term. In your rush, you may also rely on your preconceived assumptions about what your new role entails, rather than exploring and fully understanding what kind of leader you need to be. As a result, you might hit the ground running, but you often end up running in the wrong direction.
Action item: Leaders primarily create success through other people. Focus first on building relationships with your direct reports, managers and new peers across the organization.
- “I must make a great first impression.” I’m sure you’ve read or heard about the research that suggests people make lasting judgments about others within the first few seconds of meeting them. While partly true in some simplified contexts, it’s much less predictive for long-term working relationships. More important, if you worry too much about first impressions, you often try too hard, and that comes off as either arrogance or pushiness. Besides, if you’ve been promoted over people you’ve been working with for years, you already have made a first, 10th and likely a 1000th impression already.
Action item: While first impressions are influential, they fade from memory after a few interactions. You’re better off simply trying to make the next interaction a good one.
- “I must prove myself.” You may feel pressure to quickly prove that promoting you was a wise decision. However, doing so often causes you to start your new role with a focus on performing over learning. You see your managers and direct reports as evaluators first, collaborators second. As a result, you avoid taking risks and making mistakes, and either end up a reluctant, laissez-faire leader who tolerates low performance or a controlling micro-manager who doesn’t delegate responsibilities or trust your team.
Action item: Understand that your new manager, direct reports and peers do not expect a flawless performance from you. Your success is determined by your ability to quickly learn through others.
- “I can’t bother busy, important people.” Leaders achieve success through other people, and that requires you at times to interrupt them and sometimes push coworkers to obtain the information and results you need to be an effective manager. You can’t wait for other people to approach you, as it likely won’t happen.
Action item: You don’t want to be a jerk about it, but recognize that as a leader you have the right and responsibility to stay informed and offer help when needed. Only interrupt others when you have a good reason to, and always be respectful.
- “I can’t ask for help without looking bad.” Now that you’re the boss, you may feel that others expect you to be fully up to speed on your new role, and that revealing that you don’t know everything will be seen as a sign of weakness (both with your manager and your direct reports). As a result, you either waste time looking for answers on the internet or, worse, make decisions with incomplete information. Either way, you end up being less effective than if you’d just swallowed your pride and asked the right person a timely question.
Action item: Recognize that new leaders aren’t expected to know everything. In fact, asking questions shows respect for others’ knowledge and expertise, and makes you look like a humble learner rather than a stubborn know-it-all.
Being a new leader is both exciting and stressful. Don’t let your misconceptions drive you to undermine your own effectiveness and satisfaction with your new role.
Keith Rollag is Associate Professor and Chair of the Management Division at Babson College. Success Magazine recently declared his new book “What to Do When You’re New: How to Be Comfortable, Confident, and Successful in New Situations” as one of the “10 Best Books of 2015.” More information at www.whenyourenew.com.