Like 99% of you reading this article, I’ve had multiple roles across multiple organisations that, together, make up my (previous) career. And as a one-time consultant, I’m no stranger to landing in a new role, heading–up long–placed or newly-assembled teams, wanting to work hard, do a good job, contribute the benefit of my experience and avoid common pitfalls.
Fast forward to today: and as a coach, I’m always looking for and reflecting on the themes and commonalities across those I work with, so I can better help them establish the awareness, responsibility and performance habits that eliminate common mistakes.
So, here’s my shortlist of 6 common missteps I’ve seen made by those taking new leadership and management roles. And what can be done to combat them effectively.
#1 Prioritising being liked over being respected
Those landing in a new role can easily slip into prioritising being liked over being respected. A burning desire to have everyone think that they’re a great person, more like a friend and peer, than a manager or leader.
And that’s understandable at the outset, when we’re building trust and rapport. But ultimately, that tactic loses respect in the long run – a loss that is hard to recover from.
So, what gain’s respect? Holding people accountable to the agreements they’ve made with you and themselves. And the best way to inspire that behaviour is to hold ourselves accountable to the agreements we’ve signed up to.
Continually challenge yourself with the idea of accountability. And ask: “What can I do that will inspire respect from my people?”
#2 Too much time spent trying to figure people out
I want to understand my people. But I don’t want to start playing amateur psychiatrist. It’s not reliable and can lead to significant issues.
Instead: I simply want to focus on agreements. Co-creating the agreement, together. And then managing that agreement: in both directions. Here’s what you can count on from me. And what I can count on from you? And striking that agreement is as good as it being done already.
So, always be talking about the agreement. Not so much the behaviour. And certainly not the person. Else, you’re just being a parent to their child – where what we want is an adult–adult relationship.
Co–create agreements. Then: manage agreements.
#3 Being too much in the past
When we live life in the past, it’s reflected in our language and in our focus. And that has significant knock–on consequences for the present – and so, for the future (which is created in the present).
Living in the past is not leadership. Leadership is future-focused. Better yet: leadership is future-sourced. And so, I want to keep listening to my communication and have that communication come from the future.
Why? Because that’s what your team are looking for.
A vision of the future: imagined, articulated and developed in the present. Something that we can get behind and get into. And so, it’s no surprise that our highest productivity, as individuals and as a team, is achieved when our future-focus is at its highest.
#4 Apologising for change
Being apologetic for changes when you communicate with your new team is a tempting sidestep – but it is not powerful leadership.
Saying “I’m sorry we’re doing things a new way” invites my people to think these things shouldn’t be happening and that they’re being thrust upon us. That they’re bad, negative, unappealing, unproductive, burdensome. And from that portrayal of change, I can’t then reasonably expect an energised, fired-up, high-performing team.
Apologising for change encourages my people to be victims. And what I want is a team of owners.
So, instead: I want to sell the change.
As a leader, I want to understand the change, inside-out, and get behind it. I want to understand its roots, its virtues and its implementation. I want to understand why it’s good and how it’ll help us. And then I want to communicate that.
Apologising for change is not leadership. And when I do it, it weakens not just me, but my team.
Sell the change.
#5 Running down upper management
In a new leadership role, we’re unlikely to do this consciously or overtly. But it’s easy to slip in our language and behaviours: just notice how often we or those around us talk about “they”.
It’s temptingly comfortable to put everything on upper management and their decisions. And to make a career out of worrying about that. (Tell me you haven’t come across at least someone who’s been in that state of perpetual anxiety over this thought.)
But keep in mind: if I as a leader do that, I’m sowing fertile seeds of ambiguity and low motivation. And that negative energy can quickly spread.
So be the exact opposite of the person who runs down upper management. Be an advocate. A sponsor. A champion. Not in an unthinking or sycophantic way. But simply: onboard.
#6 Not enough focus on the hiring process
Great Leadership is, in large part, great recruitment. If I surround myself with the right people and the right team make-up, everything is easier, quicker, more productive and more energised.
As a new leader, we know we need to assemble the necessary resources: starting with people. But the issue is this: we don’t spend enough time or go deep enough in the interview.
We’re so keen to get the people in, we don’t often get beyond our superficial – and so, anticipated – questions. And what we get are rehearsed answers whilst the person across from us roleplays the part that gets the role. And that’s fine – it’s human nature. But it doesn’t tell us what this person is really like or whether they’ll really work out.
So: spend more time in the interview. And go deep, right from the outset. Ask the initial question – but then layer. Ask question upon question to get beyond those well-rehearsed answers. And find out who you’re really hiring.
One final thought: I keep talking about the importance of creating agreements. One great place to do that that’s not often thought of is right there, in the interview itself. Create an agreement in that very first interaction with your potential hire. And those you take on will remember and commit to that for a long time to come.