This self-help guide to a successful transition from individual contributor to leader offers proven practices any new manager can adopt. Drawing on years of experience as a leadership coach and positive psychologist, Lucy Ryan teaches how to let go of habits that no longer serve you, create accountable teams and generate a sense of belonging. She offers a manual for leading through care, optimism, empathy and self-awareness. Ryan’s well-referenced advice offers applicable guidance for all newly appointed managers and supervisors.
- Learning leaders are vulnerable, inquisitive, open-minded, hands-on and reflective.
- Move fluidly between your new roles as leader, manager and coach.
- Exhaustion can cripple you, so manage your energy wisely.
- Reward employees and offer work that suits them.
- Proactively nurture diversity and belonging.
- Put customers first.
- Harness your people’s desire for change.
- Don’t avoid difficult conversations.
- Build a resilient culture.
- Manage your reputation and how you “present.”
Learning leaders are vulnerable, inquisitive, open-minded, hands-on and reflective.
Leadership doesn’t demand superhuman abilities or having all the answers. You succeed as a leader by taking care of yourself – your happiness and engagement – first. Then, develop and empower your teams by creating an environment conducive to personal accountability.
“Fundamentally, I believe that all great leaders are learners.”
This path builds your confidence and preserves your energy. Leaders who thrive in volatile and uncertain conditions tend to possess five qualities: They express vulnerability; exhibit a growth mind-set; stay curious and ask questions; remain action-oriented; and take time to reflect.
Move fluidly between your new roles as leader, manager and coach.
Your natural instinct will be to keep doing what you’re already good at – your technical competencies – when you should focus on honing leadership, management and coaching skills. Expand your broader knowledge of the organization, and find a mentor. Develop a new personal vision by keeping track of the skills you develop, aspects of your new role that excite you and what holds you back. Read more broadly, take scheduled time for learning and reflect on your progress.
“The act of appreciating others will fuel your own happiness as a leader. Their joy will become your delight.”
Think of leading as standing above the dance floor on a balcony, observing the big picture, so you can devise strategies and tactics to make improvements. Think of management as the times when you have to get off the balcony and onto the dance floor to guide people – show them what to do and how. Think of coaching as letting people figure it out themselves with the benefit of a gentle guide. Move fluidly through these roles and keep them in balance.
Exhaustion can cripple you, so manage your energy wisely.
Exhaustion can undermine your effectiveness. Too much information, too fast a pace, too many setbacks, and too numerous simultaneous challenges threaten to overwhelm any leader. Resisting, and rebounding from, overwhelm takes energy. Focus on healthy sleep, exercise and diet. Optimism, emotional awareness, healthy relationships and a sense of purpose will also help you maintain or regain your energy.
Take notice of the things that give you energy or drain it. Sleep is one of the most crucial factors in maintaining resilience. Get seven to eight hours sleep each night. Eat small amounts and get outside for quick walks throughout the day to top up your energy stores. Avoid working through lunch and sitting all day. Have lunch with your team. Identify and listen for your emotional triggers in time to counter them. Catalog feelings of gratitude to counter negative emotions that suck your energy.
“Positive leadership encourages, empowers and energizes people. Negative leadership drains, discourages and demoralizes people.”
Talk to people who inspire your optimism and work to develop an attitude of positive leadership. Doing so combats stress and enhances engagement and well-being – for yourself and those around you. Positive leadership doesn’t ignore problems or bad behaviors. Look for what people do right and recognize it.
Positive leaders help their team build a growth mind-set; they believe they can learn and improve continuously. Nurture a growth mind-set by learning from – rather than punishing – mistakes, showing specific appreciation for people’s efforts, and matching work to people’s strengths. Always start with the positive – what’s working – before focusing on areas that need improvement.
Try not to force or order compliance and agreement. Instead, influence indirectly by remaining engaged in meetings, listening, seeking consensus and showing respect. Prioritize the people and partners you most need to influence. Gain their support by giving first, asking second. Notice your posture and body language too. Your emotional state – positive or negative – impacts your team.
Reward employees and offer work that suits them.
You can’t make anyone do anything. You can only create an environment in which people choose to do the right things. Sustainable motivation comes from the inside. But people act on extrinsic motivations – carrots and sticks – as well. Give people meaningful and interesting work when possible, grant them autonomy, and their intrinsic motivation will drive them. Not all the tasks you need done will appeal to people’s hearts and minds. For those, you need other motivators – tangible and intangible rewards.
“To lead and empower people to perform in the way that suits them and achieves great results is the art and science of great leadership.”
Work with your team to help them discover what engages and motivates them – what helps them to enter a state of flow in which time evaporates as they get lost in the love of work. Help your team work on areas that need improvement but, to the extent possible, match people’s work to what inspires them, which almost always aligns with their strengths. Work with team members to discover and discuss team and individual strengths. Make sure your team understands and buys into your goals and vision.
“Coaching through strengths is the smallest thing you can do to make the biggest difference in your team.”
Resist micromanaging. Assign responsibilities, create clear accountabilities, and regularly remind your team of the purpose of their work. Commit to regular one-on-one meetings with your employees, where you listen and ask questions more than you talk. Show interest in your people. Coach authentically to people’s strengths and encourage peer coaching. Recognize your team and encourage peer recognition as well. Give feedback and ask for it.
Proactively nurture diversity and belonging.
Develop a workforce that reflects the diversity of your customers and community. Help ensure all your employees feel they belong. One-third and one-quarter of people in the UK and US respectively do not experience belonging at work. Half or more of the workforce in each country doesn’t believe their leaders embrace diversity and belonging. To achieve inclusion and belonging, become conscious of your natural bias toward people most like you, and reject any notion that diversity means fewer opportunities for you. Make diversity and belonging everyone’s responsibility.
“The practice has to move from the functional aspects of diversity, through to the behaviors of inclusion and then further embedded in the feeling of belonging.”
Assess the diversity of your team and organization and the extent to which people feel included. Reexamine your talent sourcing and hiring practices. Walk your team through a listening session in which they share experiences of diversity and belonging. Listen and fix the things you can. Get your senior leadership on board by sharing the well-documented business case for diversity and belonging, including increased innovation and creativity. Make diversity and inclusion a standing agenda item at meetings.
Put customers first.
Most firms talk about putting customers first, but few actually do it. As business guru Peter Drucker said almost 70 years ago, your purpose as a business is to find and keep customers. Customers don’t care about your internal workings. They want their needs fulfilled and to feel you care about them. Listen to customers, talk about them in meetings and consider their ease in working with you and purchasing from you. Think more about emotion than logic when you consider customers; how do you make them feel?
“You need great products, but most of all you need a customer experience that drives loyalty and a long-term relationship.”
Consider the silos in your firm that might make doing business with you complex and frustrating. When a problem occurs – even when a customer simply calls – make it everyone’s responsibility to respond. Encourage senior leaders and even your board to listen to customer calls, and participate on occasion.
Harness your people’s desire for change.
You can’t force change, but you can lead it. Work with people’s hearts and minds, one by one, to influence acceptance and participation in change. Realize that a significant, though potentially silent, minority of your company loves change. Find and recruit them to convince others. Recognize that those who resist change probably don’t aim to obstruct. They might fear for their future, feel left out, or not understand the purpose and need for change. Counsel them and answer their questions.
“Being in touch with what we do well underpins the readiness to change and develop.” (psychologist Martin Seligman)
Work to people’s styles and needs to gain acceptance, including providing more information when they need it, a leadership role if they desire authority, and involvement in committees if they need social validation. Explain the necessity for change and what will happen if your firm stagnates. Elucidate what change offers them, and lay out your vision of a better future for the firm. Use industry examples to highlight successful change. Take a slow but steady approach. Look for and reward those who adopt new behaviors.
Don’t avoid difficult conversations.
Don’t put off tough conversations by hoping problems will resolve themselves. Enter every conversation with the expectation it will go well. Exude confidence balanced with care and empathy. Remember your triggers and resolve to listen and stay calm. Prepare by thinking through elements of the discussion that might prove challenging for you. Consider how you may have contributed to the problem and know your desired outcome before you engage.
“Know your triggers, your style under stress, and what might derail this conversation for you.”
Use the “POEMS” process for difficult conversations: “Prepare” brief remarks with which to “Open,” during which you state the facts and your interpretation. “Explore” the other party’s take on the problem. “Make it safe” for your conversational partners to share, and “Summarize” the conversation.
Build a resilient culture.
The COVID-19 pandemic made many leaders wonder how they can enhance resilience across their organizations. The answer lies in your corporate culture – what people say about your firm after hours, in the pub, online and anywhere in the world. Firms that drive their people relentlessly, punish mistakes or permit silos erode their resilience. Shared vision and purpose build resilience. Trust develops resilience. Psychologically safe firms, in which people can speak their minds and be themselves at work prove more resilient.
“I can assure you that if you start with trust and act with trust, you will engender it from others.”
Build optimism, talk about exciting opportunities, and showcase strengths and past instances of people and teams overcoming obstacles. Eliminate useless meetings and keep necessary ones as short as possible. Give your team time to learn, connect with others and reflect.
Manage your reputation and how you “present.”
You have a brand whether you manage it or not. Your brand determines how people perceive, respect and listen to you. Know what you authentically stand for and what distinguishes you, and exhibit those character traits. Know your passions and strengths and focus most of your efforts on them. As old-fashioned as it may sound, dress and carry yourself for success.
“It’s time to accept you have a personal brand and that your reputation is key to your leadership.”
Work on your presentation skills, your ability to conduct meetings, and how you engage, communicate and direct your team. When you present, prepare but avoid sounding scripted. Keep your slides to a minimum, practice a strong opening, turn your presentation into a story and heed your audience’s perspective to ensure you speak to their needs – not yours. Make sure you can convey your crucial point in five minutes – including the decision or action you hope to generate. Involve the audience through questions or exercises. Take time to practice. Show your warmth, affection and respect for your colleagues.
About the Author
Dr. Lucy Ryan holds an MSc in positive psychology and a PhD in management and leadership, which she leverages in her coaching and leadership consulting practice.
This document is restricted to personal use only.