Becoming a leader…Shifting the Balance of Power.

While this post is a “repeat performance”, I think reflecting on some of  the changes we must make when we first undertake a leadership role never goes amiss… and is worth repeating from time to time.  What do you think?

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, Leadership, Leadership Development, Learning

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

  1. These are really important lessons Gwyn and many times they are learned the hard way, All too often I see people underestimate the implications of being granted positional power over someone. I’ve had people say things like “but I am the same person I’ve always been”. Yet your relationship has just had a profound change so as you point out they likely expect more from you.

    I remember seeing a brain study that was done 30+ years ago. They questioned the assumption that because the boss has more responsibility they have more stress. Turns out the boss has less stress because they have more of a sense of self determination. Something to consider when determining who you need to be for the people who work for you.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Susan, That’s an interesting finding and one I wouldn’t have expected. It speaks to the need for awareness of our impact on those we lead, something that not everyone is particularly skilled in.
      Thanks for that and for coming by. I’m always glad when you do 🙂

  2. Gwyn,
    Wonderful post, as always. Your replay of this post is very valuable to my wife, Dava, and I at this point in time. Dava is about to be empowered to manage and lead a diverse group of people in her business. Leadership trumps friendship.

    I believe a leader has a responsibility to her group to make each and every member better by helping them develop their skills, communicate honestly (even if it is sometimes painful), and share her plan to accomplish these goals with each member of the group.

    Easier said then done…Nope.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Larry, yes, much easier said that done….but absolutely doable.
      It sounds like Dava has an interesting challenge ahead but one that she is no doubt up for. Congratulations!
      Thanks for spending a little time here. I appreciate your views and your input.

  3. Leadership is bounded; unlike baseball, in bounds and out of bounds are seldom defined

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Lee ~ And that’s maybe why leadership is so inexact, both scientific and artistic and always challenging. Thanks for that! 🙂

  4. Hi Gwynn,
    I loved your observation that “being a leader is not about you”. It’s about the people who look to you for leadership. It’s exactly the same for being a speaker. Giving a presentation is not about the speaker; it’s about the audience. Just as the people on a team needs their leader to be genuine and trustworthy, so an audience needs the speaker to be real and someone they can open their mind to. It strikes me that in both cases, the person at the point of focus needs to be accessible and friendly, but not a buddy. Always, always, it’s about THEIR needs.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Heather ~ thanks for adding another dimension to the post. You have me thinking that there are elements of leadership everywhere. There is certainly a big component of it when we get up and speak to groups of others. To me, that is a time when the message becomes more important than the messenger. It is not easy to set aside our own fears about being “front & centre”. That’s why we need more people like you who can help us get passed, or over, ourselves in service of something greater.
      Thank you for that and for coming by! 🙂

  5. Kim Whitney

    Ive recently joined a couple of women in leadership forums. Working in a heavily male dominated environment it was interesting both speakers (one high ranking in military and the other police) raised the same point…It’s not about you. Staff want to have faith in you to do the right thing and have consistency.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Kim ~ absolutely right and as you have read, I learned that one the hard way. Thanks so much for your comment and for coming by! 🙂

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