Finding value as a new leader

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Written by Leigh Chattington and Richard Graham on 13 August 2014

During a recent conversation with a high-performing team member embarking on a new leadership role, I posed the following question: “What kind of leader do you want to be?”

The response that followed was one I often hear: “I’m an expert, so I can lead by example and show the team what a good job looks like by how I tackle the work.”

My follow-up question… “What other ways can you add value to the team?” …was met by a long pause.

Making the shift

This interaction brings to light an all too familiar challenge for new leaders. Of course, having expertise in the work your team do as well as role modelling good performance are both greats way to set the standard for your people to follow. However, as most experienced leaders will recognise, there are many behaviours that will make a new leader successful. The key is to recognise the need for a shift from measuring value and impact by evaluating one’s own outputs, to measuring value by the degree to which one enables the performance of others.

Research carried out by Emerge Leadership Group shows that 48 per cent of employees with leadership titles struggle to make this shift: “…employees think, feel, value and behave the way competent individual contributors would, even though they are expected to lead others.”

Let’s face it, measuring the impact of our own work is easier and can bring quicker wins. For example, if a leader has sales clients as well as managing a team of sales people, it’s easier to see their own impact on their clients than it is to pinpoint the difference they’ve made to their team’s output. Also, being measured by individual results is comfortable – it’s the way the new leader has been measured in the past. People may tend to hang on to what is familiar when everything else about their role is changing. What’s more, many of the people promoted to lead a team are picked precisely because they are high performers in their existing role, not because of the leadership capabilities they have displayed. Adding all this together, it’s no surprise that the desire to change may ‘weigh in’ much less than the necessity to do so.

The impact of inertia

The danger in not making this shift is that the new leader becomes a high performing trailblazer for the team to follow rather than a respected enabler with a diverse set of people skills e.g. directing, developing and motivating. Consider the longer term impact of only using this one, trailblazing leadership style. A team who feel compelled to keep pace with a high performing leader without receiving the nurturing and development they require to perform at their peak will soon burn out, or much worse, opt out. This is hardly a recipe for team success.

Smoothing the road for success

To support and accelerate this mindset shift we suggest that all new leaders, regardless of tenure, consider taking some action within the following four key areas as they transition into their new role:

  1. Seek clarity on how you will be measured. Find out from your own leader what they see as your key leadership goals and how these will be evaluated. This will provide you with clarity on what you need to continue doing and/or change.
  2. Reflect on the best leader you’ve worked for in the past. Ask: ‘What did they do that gave them this title?’ What behaviours were most appreciated and what impact did they have? Consider what opportunities you might have to emulate this role model.
  3. Get to know your team. Ask each person what they value in a leader, what motivates them and what they want to learn. Observe how each person goes about their work, identify areas of high competence, share the feedback and look for ways to tackle the development jointly.
  4. Develop a strategy for your leadership brand. Consider how you want to be described by your team members six months’ time. Then think about the values and behaviours required to create this brand and look for opportunities to display them.

These four areas encompass only a few of the ingredients for ongoing leadership success. There are many skills and behaviours required for effective team leadership, which we’ll explore in future blogs. But, learning as quickly as possible to measure personal value through the achievements of others is a good place to start.


About the author
Leigh Chattington and Richard Graham are part of the leadership, learning and organisational development team at Bloomberg

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