Five things you should know about your first leadership position

The Change Chef says that your first year of leadership can throw up all sorts of surprises – because what got you there, is not going to keep you there.

Landing your first promotion is exciting. It’s a recognition of your growing expertise and a reward for effort. But no matter which industry you’re in – retail or real estate; aged care or accountancy; education or electricity – stepping into your first leadership role is often met with a steep learning curve.

Here’s 5 things you are likely to encounter in your first year as a leader.

1. A different skillset for leading

Here’s something you’re likely to find out in the first few months: the skills that got you into your leadership position are not the same as those that will keep you there.

You’ve probably been promoted for your standout abilities. Perhaps you excelled at baking cakes, teaching in the classroom or your customer service skills. Your technical skills were growing, your productivity was high and you were fast coming to the attention of those around you.

Here’s five things you should know about your first leadership position.

But excelling at your job is now only part of the equation. That’s because you’re going to switch on a whole other set of skills; adaptability, patience and empathy, a willingness to learn, communication skills, goal setting and the ability to have hard conversations.

Remember that you are not superman and some of those skills may not come easily. But as Dylan Wiliam says, “To get better at something, first you need to get a little bit worse at it.”

2. Getting more out of others

Planting your foot on the leadership ladder is a recognition of your talent. But the ability to stay there is about getting the best out of others – and that means so much more than technical know-how.

You’re going to need to learn ‘the soft skills’ to help people grow into their roles. You’ll need to approach situations with a high degree of emotional intelligence, work hard on your mindset and be flexible.

Gone are the ‘it’s-my-way-or-the-highway’ days of leader-managers. That doesn’t mean you have to let go of a strong vision of what you want to achieve. You just need to be more thoughtful about how you are going to inspire or motivate others onto your side. Some days you’re a coach, other days a friend and other days you are holding team members accountable.

3. Be a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all.

Alex Beard’s book Natural Born Learners argues that the future belongs to the learn-it-all’s rather than the know-it-all’s. But the book is more interesting for another reason: it puts difficulty back into the centre of learning. It has become cliché to say that we are all life-long learners. But it is less popular to say that what makes learning, learning, is the challenge.

Remember all that stuff about learning being fun?

Real leadership is made of the same stuff as learning: facing challenges, solving problems and communicating clearly. The leaders of today face a change curve so steep that being a constant learner is non-negotiable.

4. Effort and reward

Maybe you coasted into your first promotion because of natural talent or perhaps it was all blood, sweat and tears. But complimenting your technical skill with leadership development is going to require effort, persistence and focus.

In an interview with The Guardian, British comedian Ricky Gervais talks about his first success with The Office at 40 years of age and his regret at coasting on his natural talent. It is worth quoting in full.

“I enjoyed every moment of it [The Office],” he says. “I enjoyed the result and I enjoyed the pride. I also realised in retrospect that I didn’t enjoy all those things because of how good I thought it had turned out. I enjoyed it because of how hard it was… I realised that the work itself is the reward. The struggle itself is the reward.”

5. You’re going to need a new frame

Baking cakes, teaching students and serving customers has got you this far – but you are going to need something else from here.

Leadership is just too complicated to go into without having a frame for thinking about how you are going to organise all of your responsibilities. There are the deliverables to your manager, getting the best out of staff, coping with technological change and prioritising work.

The Change Chef is a perfect fit for first year leaders. It’s a step-by-step process that helps you gain the frames, mindsets and learning you need to flourish in this next stage of your career.

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