I wrote this post originally in July of 2012. However, based on suggestions made by some of my very astute readers, I have added a few truths that weren’t included then. While the additions made do not complete the list necessarily, they do round it out nicely. So, with thanks to Jamie, Terry and Alex, I offer you a newer version of ‘that which went before’.
You just got promoted. Congratulations! Now you’re in charge. You’re the boss… Le Grand fromage. It feels good…and if you’re honest, a little scary. You’ve read a lot of books about leadership and you have some ideas about what it takes to be a good leader, but now you have to put them into action. That’s the hard part.
So, how can I help?
Well, I can toss out, for your consideration, some simple and practical thoughts about what being a leader is about. It’s not going to be an exhaustive list of course, but hopefully it will help get you started on the right foot. So here goes:
You’re not going to “get there” quickly ~ The process of becoming a great boss is a slow one. In fact, you never really ‘get there’ because with each experience there is something new to learn. Books on Leadership and other peoples’ advice help, but mostly it is how you interpret, and act on, what you read, see and hear that counts.
Knowing yourself is an important part of leading others ~ One of your jobs as leader will be to build relationships of all kinds and at many levels. It’s easier to do this if you know yourself well and what you have to offer. If you are like most people, you will find self-examination tedious, humbling and even exhausting, but once you have a strong grip on who you are, it makes it that much easier to let go of your concerns about yourself and concentrate on other people instead.
Loyalty to the work will more often trump loyalty to you ~ If you think simply being the boss earns you respect and loyalty, you would be wrong. In these times, when organizations are no longer loyal to their workforces, the expectation of loyalty to any one leader is unrealistic. Instead, you must find ways to help people find meaning and satisfaction in the work. Engaging people in accomplishing something bigger than all of you, leads to success in achieving your collective goals and sharing a well-earned sense of pride. Now that is something worth being loyal to.
Even the best laid plans can go awry ~ It would be nice if there was a straight line between the beginning and the end of any undertaking. But this is seldom the case. Often, when you set a goal, something will happen to change everything. And when the terrain shifts like this, so must your response to the new information it reveals. When plans go awry, it helps to step back and reconnect with your organizational purpose. Why are you in business? What and/or who are you there to serve? What values do you live and work by? If you know the answers to those questions, they will guide you through uncertain times and increase the odds that your decisions will be good ones.
And, when it comes to decision-making, know what you may, and must not, delegate to others ~ There are a number of reasons why delegation is a good idea. For one thing it ensures a reasonable distribution of workload. For another, delegation provides a means through which people can learn and grow. There will be times though, when delegation is the least appropriate course of action and you alone will have to make some tough decisions for the sake of the greater good, even when it makes you unpopular. Here are some examples .
Behave in the way you would want those who follow you to behave.~ Yes, this is the “lead by example” principle. It comes up a lot. But it is surprising the number of leaders who show through their actions that this idea, while good, is really meant for other people. Here is a post you may find useful. It’s called Leading By Example and Some Mistaken Beliefs.
Simple messages have more impact than fancy oratory or business-speak ~ The purpose of communication is to achieve mutual understanding not to look good or perfect your oratory skills. People will appreciate and be more willing to act on simple, clear messages than on those shrouded in the mystery of complicated language.
Power and politics are always in play. Use them both wisely and with respect ~ Both power and politics are part of organizational life. As a boss, you will have certain decision-making authority over others. But don’t confuse this with permission to exercise your will over them. Power is at its best when shared. If it is used to manipulate others or to advance the interests of only a few, it becomes something less useful and more destructive. The bottom line here is: When it comes to power and politics, handle with care.
There are always more questions than there are answers ~ If you think that as boss, you will be required to know all the answers, think again. Those who think they know it all, don’t. Those who think they should know it all place too much pressure on themselves to solve everyone’s problems. However, if you strive to listen more often than talk and develop your ability to ask powerful questions, you might just be onto something.
Managing emotion is critical to earning credibility with others ~ You will have days when you feel snarky, miserable, angry, or otherwise out of sorts. Hey you’re human. It happens to even the saints among us. But your workplace is not the place to ‘vent’. If you do, chances are, you will have bridges to build, or repair. This takes up time that could be used more positively and productively. In short, if you want to earn the trust of your colleagues, find ways to manage your negative emotions. It pays off in the end.
When you are the boss, there is nowhere to hide ~ Not only are you going to make mistakes but other people will too. As the boss, their mistakes, at some point, will become yours. That doesn’t mean you absolve them of the consequences of having messed up. However, it does mean it will be up to you to ensure that those who make them will learn from them. There is no hiding or finger-pointing here. Should you be tempted to deflect ultimate blame away from yourself, you will be rewarded with resentment from the very people you wish to engage.
That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?
P.S. If you interested in reading more ‘Truths’ about leadership, you might consider this:
The Truth about Leadership ~ by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
The Truth About Being a Leader ~ by Dr. Karen Otazo