Taking on a new, more senior leadership role is like charging directly into the fast lane on a super highway. Eyes focused and intent, hands gripping the wheel, senses alert, adrenaline pumping. The new leader has hit the road and is ready to take on all challenges. This leader knows what to do. But does she or he know how to ”be?”
I asked a number of my current and former executive coaching clients what it was like for them to make this transition, and what tips they had for others about to do so. Here is a compilation of their reflections and my observations.
An Expanded View
The first thing apparent to leaders in new roles is that they are looking at a larger landscape than before. What that means is:
- Their sphere of influence is wider, broader, deeper.
- Decisions are made more quickly, and with less information.
- Internal politics play a more significant role.
- Performance is measured on bigger goals.
- Senior leadership expects them to be up to speed quickly.
- Agendas differ; conflicts surface more subtly.
- Strategies and plans can be easily derailed.
- Relationships are critical to achieving goals.
- The demands on the leader’s time have increased exponentially.
A New Set of Priorities
In this new landscape, what leaders pay attention to determines both their potential success and personal satisfaction. The successful ones soon learn to:
- Focus on the ”big picture.”
- Cultivate relationships with conscious intention.
- Keep their antennae alert.
- Acquire the skills to manage effectively through managers.
- Notice the impact of their communication with others.
- Keep their team engaged.
- Control what they can control.
- Be disciplined and focused with their time.
- Find a way to balance work and personal life.
New roles bring with them a variety of unique challenges. Some that new leaders may face are:
- A change in relationship from long-standing peer to senior manager.
- Responsibility for functions in unfamiliar territory.
- A mandate to bring together diverse groups and work cultures.
- ”Remote management” – leading teams or divisions separated by geography.
- Metamorphosis from entrepreneur to bureaucrat: how to adapt, yet hold onto their creativity, independence and sense of urgency.
For a leader in transition, there are many new balls in the air. Anxiety can be high, though it is often masked. While new leadership roles are exciting and rewarding, they are also rife with personal ”gremlins” or inner critics, bent on eroding the self-confidence leaders normally project to the world.
Leaders willing to acknowledge their fears to someone they trust will admit they silently ask themselves:
- Do I have what it takes?
- Am I exuding the right presence?
- Can I make my voice heard?
- Will I have the impact I want?
- Will I be able to meet stakeholders’ expectations?
- How will I manage the competing demands of work and home?
- And, after years of success, ”is this the one I’m going to fail at?”
In stating their fears to someone else, leaders acknowledge their humanity, their vulnerability, and their openness to personal growth. Paradoxically, it is then easier for them to see their strengths, unique capabilities and potential for greater achievement. When they do, a shift occurs.
- They realize they need to pay attention to who they ”be” as a leader, as much as to what they ”do.”
- They notice that it is because of their leadership that the work gets done.
- They understand that their primary role is to be an effective visionary, communicator, and change agent.
- They learn that success derives from a powerful belief in themselves and a respectful appreciation of the talents of others.
Qualities of Successful Leaders in Transition
I have observed six major qualities in leaders who have successfully transitioned from ”doing” to ”being”:
- They are clear about and adhere to their personal values.
- They possess an inner strength and resolve.
- They balance logic and creativity.
- They are intuitive.
- They know when to stand their ground.
- They are open to learning.
Tips for Leaders in Transition
Some who have traveled the fast, and often bumpy road, have offered these tips for leaders in transition:
- Think through who will be impacted by you in your new role (new boss, peers, colleagues, team) and prepare for initial conversations with them.
- Seek out other who have made such a transition before for guidance, advice on potential pitfalls, and encouragement.
- Take risks, manage uncertainty, appear calm.
- Learn how to get work done through others.
- Behave the way you expect others to, i.e. ”walk the talk.”
- Know when to push back and learn how to do it effectively.
- Invest your energies in directions where you are being supported.
- Take advantage of developmental opportunities.
- Tackle difficult communication issues head on with the support of an HR person, mentor or coach.
- Give constant verbal recognition. Reinforce people’s value, and let them know what they are doing is on track. And say ”thank you” a lot.
- Find ways to get some distance from the job.
- Remember who you are – be yourself!
- Enjoy the ride! Look back periodically to see and celebrate how far you’ve come.
A Coach’s Perspective
It is heart-warming for a coach to be with those who constantly strive for personal and professional achievement. It is rewarding to help them believe fully in themselves and see themselves as powerful as others see them, and exciting to watch the best become even better. Any journey of discovery and growth is one well worth taking.