Skip to main content
power points

For up-and-coming leaders, the first big hurdle usually comes when they move from being an individual contributor with a specific role to overseeing others as a manager. To get that crucial step right – and build on it in future managerial assignments – executive coach Amy Jen Su says you need to pay attention to what you think, what you say and how you appear to others in terms of your leadership presence.

Here is some of the advice she shares in Harvard Business Review:

  • Set a leadership values-based goal: You’ll be eager to get going and make stuff happen. But first take some time to think of what values will guide your actions. This may relate to authenticity, making time for others, the speed by which you will act or other values you hold dear. “Set an aspirational goal to serve as a guiding compass,” she advises.
     
  • Increase your emotional intelligence and situational awareness: Getting things done now depends more than in the past on working with others. You need to be alert to how others are motivated or influenced; those factors won’t be a carbon copy of your own preferences. She suggests asking about the other person or audience before important interactions or meetings: What might their perspective on this topic be? How are they best motivated or influenced? What does the situation at hand call for? What are the optimal outcomes and tone?
     
  • Be clear and direct, always speaking with respect: This will test you at times, but is vital. A key issue is your own style when reacting to people, which you will have to counteract at times. “If you are naturally strong at listening and hearing others’ opinions, flex your muscles in getting to your own convictions and thoughts more quickly. Before important meetings or interactions, jot down a few bullet points to yourself: “What are the three to five things I believe about this topic or issue?” she writes. “Conversely, if you are naturally strong at having your own opinions, settle into a greater patience, so that you can make space to hear others. Show you are really listening by asking great questions, clarifying what you’ve heard, or acknowledging how you’re processing the information.” Also critical: Make sure people know the “why” behind what they are being asked to do.
     
  • Be a stable and grounded presence in the face of change, stress or difficult news: Take some time to think of the signals you give, particularly when under stress or siege. A passing moment of anger or impatience can have a long-term impact on your team. You must be a stable and grounded presence, an anchor for them in a chaotic world. This will also increase the chances they will come to you with bad news, rather than hide from you.

None of this startling. But it can be missed, particularly if you have been rewarded in the past for action – your own performance. It's different now. "Becoming a new manager is an important leadership passage in your career. Step back and think about your leadership presence and if you are thinking, saying, and showing up as you most hope to and intend," she says.

Seven classic new leader mistakes

New leaders should also be alert to seven classic mistakes blogger Ron Edmondson has catalogued:

  • Assuming people trust you before they really do: People often are excited to have a new leader on board. It can be easy to be very popular. But trust is not the same as popularity and it is almost never granted simply by your arrival in a new position. You have to earn it.
     
  • Bashing the past while attempting to get to the future: This is easy to do as you will be convinced of the glorious future your entry promises. “When you make fun or speak badly of days gone by you often alienate people who were there before you arrived. When you talk about the mistakes of the past – even if they are obvious – you are often talking about the people you are now trying to lead,” he writes. “Don’t forget the past – good or bad – is a part of their personal story.”
     
  • Assuming nothing good was done before you got there: Similarly, it’s easy to overlook the fact that probably many good things were done in the past, even if things aren’t great today. “It’s arrogant to think otherwise,” he stresses.
     
  • Having a “they need me” complex: Don’t pretend to have all the answers, as it will turn others off from sharing their good ideas.
     
  • Ignoring unwritten rules: Every organization and unit in an organization has some rules in place that aren’t written down but are essential to their core DNA. He notes that can involve how things are done and how people interact with one another. Those can change over time, but not as easily if you don’t take time to understand them.
     
  • Not understanding the real power structure: Before you can make the changes you want, you need to understand the power dynamics – who holds power (including those who don’t have titles).
     
  • Not testing the waters before making major changes: Don’t plunge in. Keep testing the waters with your changes. That includes holding meetings before important meetings, so you can try out your ideas on others.

Over all, he says, you need humility to avoid tripping. If you want to make hard decisions and get things humming, that will be more likely to occur if you don't get too full of yourself.

What to say in an interview if you were fired from your last job

In an interview, you will be asked about your previous employer. If you were fired, it can be a feared, awkward moment. Here's how Halifax-based executive recruiter and career coach Gerald Walsh advises in a recent blog post to handle it:

  • Deal with your emotions before the interview: You may be angry and bitter, even in a state of shock or denial if the firing was recent. “It is important that these emotions be dealt with, or at least under control, before you set foot in an interview room. Any obvious displays of these emotions in an interview will likely be deal breakers,” he notes.
     
  • Prepare your answers but don’t be too scripted: Consider how to explain the situation and how that viewpoint will be received by a neutral interviewer. Then rehearse in a mock interview session with a friend.
     
  • Keep your answers short and to the point: Explain what happened, even if it's uncomfortable, and move on. Remember that long, carefully rehearsed answers may seem like you’re hiding something. “Keep the tone positive – emphasizing that the past is behind you and you are moving forward,” he says. Don’t lie, make up stories or blame your former boss. Check with your references, so what you say fits with what they will say.
     

It can be helpful, he says, to raise the issue before the interviewer does. After all, it will be discussed. "If you bring up the issue before being asked about it, you will come across as confident and truthful and with nothing to hide. Interviewers will appreciate your frankness and likely move on to the rest of the interview," he says.

Quick hits

  • Delete your phone’s e-mail app before your vacation and reinstall it on your return, advises consultant Ann Gomez. If that seems too radical, move the app off your home screen so it’s harder to access and not visible when taking a picture with your phone or checking the weather.
     
  • Adopt new GE CEO John Flannery’s pet communications technique: He may want to talk about a number of things, but he always follows the rule of three – stressing three basic elements or ideas that are easy to remember, notes presentations expert Carmine Gallo.
     
  • We all use our hands to communicate – even when on the phone, invisible to the other party, people will be gesticulating, notes consultant Kevin Eikenberry. So make sure not to hide your hands when talking to others, as it could suggest you have something to hide.
     
  • Some things come naturally and others don’t. The unnatural can be important, however, so to change your behaviour, consultant Wally Bock suggests reminding yourself with checklists and alarms and giving yourself a small reward when you do the unnatural well.
     
  • Red wine and networking don’t mix, according to the experts at Vancouver’s Shepa Learning Co. in their weekly tip. If you’re shaking hands, trying to exchange business cards and manoeuvring through a crowd with glass in hand, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. A white wine spill on someone can be blotted out with a paper napkin, but spilling red wine on somebody else is beyond awkward.

‘I don’t have an office, and I think that allows me to build trust and have open and honest transparency and communication with our employees’

Special to Globe and Mail Update

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct