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Stepping up to your new leadership role

Posted on from First 100

In the second of a series of articles focussing on how to prepare for your first 100 days in a new senior executive role, Padraig Coffey discusses how stepping up to a new leadership role remains one of the most daunting aspects of career change we can encounter.

Confidence dip

In the second of a series of articles focussing on how to prepare for your first 100 days in a new senior executive role, I examine the importance of an effective transition.

In our work with new leaders at First100, we challenge our clients to become effective transition makers as they move along the leadership pipeline.

A large number of the new leaders we work with are moving from a senior specialist/technical role, to a more generalist managerial role and the first thing that usually occurs is a confidence dip. There is a tendency for the newly appointed to question their own ability for the new role.

Fears of being a fraudster?

This holds true regardless of whether we are dealing with a person who has been promoted internally or an external hire. Managing leadership confidence is a tricky proposition, as with the challenge of a new role inevitably comes a nagging sense that maybe you are in over your head and will be found out as a fraud.

The successful leader can ignore this inner voice and not let it hold them back in how they perform in the vital early days.

On a recent assignment, we worked with the new managing director of a telecoms Enterprise Division, who had been promoted from sales director. Along with helping her to ignore the ‘inner-voice of doubt’, we invested a lot of our efforts in guiding her to remove the functional blinkers of her old role.

We stressed the need for her to let go of her previous responsibilities, for instance the creation of the sales plan. She also needed to avoid bringing any bias in her dealings with the various departments now under her remit.

Letting go of old habits

A similar case occurred with the new country manager of a pharmaceutical company, who faced some early challenges in letting go of his old role as director of research & development. We encouraged him to reflect on how much time and energy he was devoting to each department and raised his awareness of how any perceived favouritism could impact the morale and performance of divisions who felt they were not being treated fairly.

By focusing too much on the R&D division, there was also a danger that he could undermine the confidence of his successor there.

Five factors of success for transition

Regardless of the situation, we teach our clients the five factors of success in effective transition making. The first is to have a clear vision. This provides both confidence and a sense of purpose, and brings clarity to the leader in terms of strategic decision making.

This requires quite a bit of reflection, but leaders need to become comfortable in devoting more time to strategic thinking and less to “activity”.

The second factor is about having no fear. While there are many aspects crucial to your success that are outside your control, one thing you can manage is your level of confidence. This can be done by taking care of your energy levels and overall physical health, and also by reminding yourself that ‘fear thoughts’ are imaginary and counter-productive.

The third is all about practising patience and resilience. Effective leadership performance recognises that untimely obstacles and unforeseen circumstances can get in the way, but that staying calm and focused is the means by which these are overcome.

Fourthly, we stress to our clients that they must be a fast learner. The honeymoon period of bedding in to a new role no longer exists, and it is dangerous to think otherwise. Judgments about your capacity as a leader will be made early, so assess what you need to learn about your role and devote the time to developing your knowledge and skills base.

Step up as leader

Finally, we counsel our clients that they should not fear making mistakes. These will inevitably occur, and provide a source of knowledge for the leader about their role, and perhaps aspects of their leadership style that they need to be more conscious of. If we work with a new leader who states that they have not made any real mistakes in the early stages, we advise them to work on their self-awareness.

A closing piece of advice for those making a leadership step-up is to consider your own performance reviews. Did your previous manager have any comment or criticism to make about your leadership skills?

Try and think what area of weakness a former manager could point to in terms of capability. For example, could they highlight your analytical nature as making it difficult for you to act decisively? Giving this some thought can provide a rich seam of learning as you seek to become an effective transition maker.

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