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?