Becoming a leader…Shifting the Balance of Power.

When I first became a manager, I tried to be friends with everyone.  Often that meant that I regularly went out to lunch with one or two of them.  I confided in some of them…personal things.  I expressed my private frustrations, cares, fears and concerns to them. I became personally involved in their lives.   And, while I was doing all of that, I was not doing my job.

And then one day, someone came to me and told me I was failing her.  Oh, she didn’t use those exact words but that’s what she meant.  From her perspective, she felt that I might be favouring one or two of the group over the others.  And, truth be told, she was worried because my own issues seemed to be distracting me.  She didn’t feel safe.  She wasn’t sure I was being fair.

Well, this came as something of a shock to me.  All I had been trying to do was be one of them; to let them know that I was human; that by being their friend, they could trust me. I was wrong.  They didn’t need me to be their friend.  They needed leadership from me.  And, up until that point, the only person who had shown any leadership at all was the brave woman who came to tell me how I was letting her down.

This is a hard lesson for a newly minted leader to learn but it is a truth that anyone who wants to be a good leader needs to know.

So what did I learn?

Well, I can think of a couple of things and here they are:

The minute you become a designated leader is also the minute the balance of power shifts

This means that as leader you will have influence over other peoples’ working lives, something you didn’t have before.  Those people will be looking for evidence that they can trust you with that.

The Relationships you develop must transcend personal feelings and biases

In other words, your job is not to be everyone’s friend but to ensure that the group and the individuals, who work in it, get what they need to give their best effort.

People who look to you for leadership are less interested in your worries and more interested in your ability to meet their needs.

Simply put, being a leader is not about you.  If you believe yourself to be more important because you carry a title, you might want to think about that a little more.  Your job is only done well if you have enabled others to excel in theirs.

So, what are your thoughts?  What would you add?  What do you think it takes to make a successful transition from individual contributor to leader?



Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Establishing Direction, Leadership Shift

5 responses to “Becoming a leader…Shifting the Balance of Power.

  1. As I was reading your post, Gwyn, I was picturing a very similar experience I had earlier in my leadership career. Basically, I was doing exactly what you described above – being friendly as an attempt to be more approachable and transparent. As in your story, I was accused of playing favorites. However, it was not brought to be directly; instead, I was called to HR where the situation was explained to me. Once the HR professional explained the situation to me, I understood what went wrong and steps I needed to take to rectify the situation.

    For me, one of the key questions is this: as a leader, what is my role as it relates to every team member? My answer? It is to help each member succeed. Not just one or two – everyone on the team. This goes beyond pleasing individual members. It is looking out for the larger picture, arbitrating where necessary, explaining the basis of decisions, and providing leadership in a context that keeps in mind the success of every individual on the team. This mindset has helped me tremendously since.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Joe!

      Thanks so much for sharing your story.

      Acquiring a “larger view” when we first undertake a management position, seems to be the first order of business if we are to bring leadership to the role. And, all of the things you talk about are critical to establishing and maintaining effective leadership practices.

      Thanks for coming by! I have missed getting the benefit of your experience as a leader and it’s lovely to see you here.

  2. Pingback: mick's leadership blog

  3. Achieving the right balance between openness and camaraderie on the one hand and “bossness” on the other is one of the hardest things about being a manager, and new managers often have problems with it at first. It’s especially difficult if the new manager has been promoted from the group and used to be a peer. There’s no simple answer to it either, because different employees have different needs and expectations. As the work environment continues to change with the influx of younger employees who expect a more collegial environment and with the coming talent crunch, this will prove an even greater challenge for managers.

    Harris Silverman

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Harris,

      Yes, you make a good point. It is especially challenging for people who were previously peers and have moved up within their own unit to be the boss. In that case *everyone* has to make an adjustment.
      I think too that those who expect a collegial environment will continue to expect their bosses to be consistently fair as well and that means that they will be looking for adherence some professional boundaries. As you point out, this is easier to say than to do.

      Thanks for coming by again!

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