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4 things you must do in your new leadership role

I remember sitting in the company cafeteria out in Denver, commiserating with a colleague. Our view of the Rocky Mountains was fabulous. Our view of our corporate careers… not so much!

Distributed computer networks enabled big companies to get reports on how operations were performing. Senior management reasoned they no longer needed middle managers to evaluate and provide status reports. The big box model was in! General management skills and leadership were no longer valued. Great technical skills and experience got you the job.

“Where will the next generation of leaders come from? How will they be developed?” we wondered aloud.

Fast-forward 30 years! Those questions remain unanswered. Among the CEO’s I work with, it is one of the most frequent complaints.

“How can I get my managers to understand the big picture?”

“Why can’t they get great performance from their teams?”

If you’re one of the folks they’re complaining about, what should you do?

If you’ve been hired for your technical skills and promoted for doing a great job, your natural instinct may be to learn the details of every role in your new department. But, that’s not how you succeed.

You succeed by motivating those who work for you to do a great job using their technical skills. You’ll never know everything they know about their job. And, you shouldn’t want to. Your success will be based upon your relationship with them, not your ability to do their work.

Here are four things you must do right out of the box:

Enable them; don’t manage them: a friend recently reminded me, “We manage things. We lead people.” Sit with them one to one and find out how they think they can be most effective and then give them room to do it that way.

Focus on the big picture: how does your boss measure success? What about his or her boss? What about your team? Are they working toward goals that align with the boss’s success? With your company’s? Answer those questions and let your team figure out how best to achieve those goals. They’ll be energized by the experience.

Create a leadership development plan: we think of great leaders as charismatic. However, most of us are not born with charisma. Leadership is a set of skills one can learn. If your company doesn’t offer leadership training, find resources elsewhere.

Learn to be self-aware: Often it’s not what you say but how you say it. Your posture and the expression on your face will tell them about your mood and they will react accordingly. If you want your team to perform, act more like Jeff Bezos and less like Travis Kalanick.

If you’re accustomed to being a specialist, the transition to general management can be daunting. But it can also be the most important moment of your career. Others have made the journey and so can you. Let these easily understood principles be your guide and you’ll succeed.

Then, in 30 years, you can write about it for the next generation.

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