What Do New Leaders Struggle with the Most?
Taking the reins as a first-time leader can be both incredibly exciting and intimidating. Suddenly, you’re tasked with coaching, mentoring and leading employees — which can be rewarding — while juggling different opinions, personalities, and skills, as well as finding constructive responses to conflict — which can be challenging. And, if you were promoted from within a team, colleagues who yesterday were your peers — and even friends — now see you as “the boss”.
Anyone who is newly stepping into a management position faces a steep learning curve. The struggle for new leaders is real and we’ve found that these are the challenges that they struggle with the most.
Managing Former Peers
If you’ve spent some time in a non-leadership position at your company and are newly promoted, you’re now responsible for direct reports who used to be your peers. Making the transition from workmate to manager may initially prove harder than you expected. This role change doesn’t mean you can’t still maintain a friendly relationship with one another, or even be friends. However, there is a fundamental change in the working relationship, and you need to earn the respect of your team as an authority figure in a position of leadership.
Learning How to Manage and Lead
As a leader, you have two important roles: getting projects done right and getting the most out of your team. Managing a team is about executing on plans (outlining the objectives for projects, assigning duties, keeping employees organized on time, etc.). Leading a team focuses more on boosting the morale of the team and motivating them to want to do what needs to be done. A successful leader must learn to effectively do both.
While first-time leaders may initially hesitate to give critical feedback, they have to get comfortable addressing poor performance. Telling someone that they’re not meeting performance expectations, or worse, that they’re failing, is a delicate and difficult task. An effective leader must learn how to coach a team member to improved performance while keeping the morale of the employee high. Rather than providing constructive criticism, focus on providing suggestions on how your team member can adjust their approach to perform more effectively in the future. When given positively, this empowers them to try out a new behavior or shift their mindset, and build upon what things they’re doing that are already working.
The key that unlocks the door to successful leadership is communication. Managers must communicate with people across all levels in the organization — team members, peers and higher-ups. Poor communication can lead to information being misinterpreted, low morale, missed performance goals, and ultimately, inefficiencies that can hold back a company. Effective communication skills include keeping lines of communication open, knowing the right cadence of communication, understanding how information is disseminated, and using audience-specific messaging to communicate goals and expectations with every member of the team.
Conflict resolution isn’t a pleasant part of being a leader, but it’s an essential one. At its essence, conflict management is the process of reducing negative relationship outcomes while harnessing conflict to achieve better work outcomes. Great leaders recognize that conflict itself isn’t bad, but that it must be proactively, and at times, reactively managed, to get to a better result. Creative tensions, competing agendas, and personal interests can open a path to solutions that meet the needs of multiple stakeholders. Leaders must be able to utilize conflict management skills to provide direction and guidance towards a resolution.
Working with Different Personalities
First-time managers must be able to positively and effectively work with and lead employees who have different opinions, personalities, and skills or abilities. In fact, being able to work with a range of different personalities is a hallmark of a strong leader. When one gets too comfortable working with the same people day-in and day-out or is only accustomed to working with certain types of people, that is one sign of a more limited range of leadership capability. The most successful teams are formed when a supervisor understands each employee’s strengths and weaknesses, knows how to leverage each member’s unique talents and motivations, and brings these different personalities together to accomplish something greater.
Asking for Help
Stepping into the new role of a leader comes with many challenges, questions and uncertainties. Yet many first-time managers hesitate to ask for help, fearing that doing so is a sign of weakness. Quite the opposite is true. Weaknesses don’t make you weak. They make you human. And being human means accepting that you have weaknesses that go along with your strengths. When you don’t know the ‘how’ or the ‘what,’ ask someone who might have the answer or who can work with you to get to one.
These simple, yet often neglected, considerations will help you focus on the right behaviors, skills and mindsets needed to ensure a smoother transition into your new leadership role.
To become the type of leader people want to follow, you need the right tools. As you step into that critical first, and eventually, second, third and fourth leadership role, our team at Copperbox can help you identify the right toolbox to take with you, so you can go further, faster.
Wayland K. Lum is the Founder and Managing Director of Copperbox. You can learn about Wayland’s work with leaders at www.copperbox.co, and connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.