Although top management jobs – CEOs and senior executives – are daunting ones, the most difficult leadership role may be an individual's first supervisory position.
Newly promoted supervisors are often ill prepared for management. Previously, their success came from individual initiative and productivity. But they are now leading a team and success will be determined by how well that group performs. They need to flip their script, according to William Gentry, director of leadership insights and analytics at The Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina.
Just as a TV show has a script – and a pattern – that predicts what the characters will do, he says we have developed a script for our own best behaviour in those presupervisory jobs. At the core is the notion that "it's all about me" – our work, and success, is self-generated, so we should be focused on ourselves.
"That worked for us in the past and we feel 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.' But people find out it doesn't work in leadership. It's not about me. It's about we – the people you work with," Mr. Gentry said in an interview.
The centre's research finds that 50 per cent of managers are ineffective in their role. Often, he says, that's because they can't abandon the individual contributor approach. In his new book, Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work for: A Guide for New Leaders, he sets out six ways to flip your script:
Flip your mindest: His study of 300 leaders found the most successful viewed learning as intrinsically satisfying, something enjoyed for its own sake rather than something pursued to improve skills or impress others.
The data surprised him – wanting to learn to improve skills, after all, is valid – but he believes those managers had more of a growth outlook that helped them in their managerial role. In the interview, he cautions that we all have these two instincts for learning within us. But people who flip to a primarily growth mindset will win out.
Flip your skill set: Four skills will be critical to your future success as a manager: communication, influence, leading team achievement, and developing others.
He focuses first on communication and influence, which can work in tandem. Here the flip is from the Golden Rule, communicating and influencing others the way you like to receive such efforts – essentially an "it's about me" approach – to the Platinum Rule: Treat others the way they want to be treated. It's all about them. Focus on reaching their head, heart and hands, the latter means participating alongside them in certain efforts.
Flip your relationships: Your colleagues were probably friends in the past, perhaps even best friends. "You need to talk to them about the new role and what it means. Put it in the open. If you don't have this conversation at the beginning, there will be repercussions. Make sure people understand your responsibility," he said in the interview. Fairness will be crucial in the days ahead. You can't treat your friends as special.
Flip your do-it-all attitude: It's easy to slip back into trying to handle tasks yourself since you were so successful in the past – better than your colleagues, you feel. But your role is to mentor and coach those colleagues, improving their performance, and that's where you should spend the bulk of your time. "If you don't let go of the work, you are telling people you don't trust them to do it," he stresses.
Flip your perspective: Individual contributors usually have a narrow view of the organization. You need to expand your perspective to figure out where your unit fits in the bigger picture and accept that politics – managing up and across the organization – is a critical skill. You want to make sure your goal and their goals can be met, together.
Flip your focus: Your actions and decisions can have enormous impact far beyond yourself. Think of recent corporate scandals and the many managers who failed to understand that. You need to appreciate the importance of integrity, character, doing the right thing and building trust. That will only get more important as you climb the corporate ladder, so begin immediately.
Remember, it's no longer about you. It's about them and these changes in script are vital for new leaders.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter