What Would You Tell New Leaders?

By July 19, 2012Leadership

What Would You Tell New Leaders?Growing up, we lead. We lead high school groups. We organize bike rides for charities. We launch a lemonade stand. We dive into college groups and emerge as part of the leadership team for a year or two.

And, then we get our first job. We start differently. We analyze, write, and support others. We give it our all.

One day, we are handed the keys… the keys to a team.

I remember my first team. One team member was twice my age, and the other was similar in age to me and was trying to grow in role and responsibilities. Of course, I was, too. While the latter person was eager to work with me, the other – Glenn – was unhappy and unwilling.

I still remember this. His son visited our office, and I happened to be nearby. When he introduced me, he said “This is Jon, and he is, well…, my boss.” His son was my about my age. Glenn’s eyes seemed to fill with a sense of unwarranted embarrassment.

Since I couldn’t trust Glenn to really listen and do the activities required, I had to take responsibilities away. At one point, finally, something clicked. Glenn figured it out. He could oppose me every step of the way and be unhappy, or he could work with me and enjoy his work again.

Glenn was my first “problem” employee. Glenn also became a great contributor to the team and our mission. In fact, as I was leaving for a new job, Glenn invited me to his home, and we shared dinner with his family. It was a wonderful, full-circle experience of mutual respect.

What are new leaders to do?

We have heard the words – trust and respect.

We have observed the actions – collaboration and planning.

In both cases, it depends on what we heard and observed. It could have been the positive attributes or the misuse of them. Either way, we learn and grab the positive elements and lessons learned.

Unless we work in a large company, our first team to lead does not come with instructions. We should know inherently what to do next. To a certain degree, we do, but there are holes. Filling in the holes requires effort.

We need to write down some of our leadership guideposts.

John Maxwell, in 5 Levels of Leadership, states:

“As you think about the way you will define your leadership, take into consideration what kinds of habits and systems you will consistently practice. What will you do to organize yourself? What will you do every day when you arrive at work? What spiritual practices will you maintain to keep yourself on track? How will you treat people? What will be your work ethic? What kind of example will you set?”

All great questions to answer early in your leadership experience. I wish I had this list thirty years ago!

This is now, that was then. What would I tell my younger leader self now?

Simply, I would tell my younger self:

  • Lead with mutual respect in all interactions.
  • Lead with your ears and listen fully. Find your leadership voice and then use it to define directions and in give-and-take conversations. Set the right tone.
  • Don’t be too eager in everything. Give people room to grow, do, and make mistakes. Keep your drive, but don’t drive over others.
  • Be bold in action while unafraid to ask for help when needed.
  • Give honest feedback – success and growth areas – at the right time, not just the end of performance year.
  • Get honest feedback – success and growth areas – frequently from your team members and colleagues.
  • Give people a chance, but make the tough decision when it isn’t right. Retain the mutual respect principle.
  • Remember, everyone has other things going on in their lives. They have a purpose outside of work. They have family. They have personal relationships to inspire, frustrate, and care for. Keep focused on the work to be done, but remember the context of life and work.

A few months ago, I wrote a post entitled the 9 New, New Leadership Principles, which I converted into a one-page leadership guide. Whatever your experience level in leading, define how you will lead. This is not to be rigid, but centered and always improving.

What leadership insights would you give your younger self? Or, what would principles would you encourage new leaders to consider?

Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Deone Higgs says:

    post here, Jon. I have lead two teams, myself. One, where I was the leading seaman in
    my division when I was in the Navy, and the other, as a reservations supervisor
    for a major Airline. Both of which, I believe that I was ill equipped to handle
    at the time, and ended up greatly misusing the authority I had been given. I was also
    terrible about asking for help when I needed it. Thankfully, I’ve learned a few
    things since then about leading others and myself, because now I know that in order for us to lead anyone else, we must start from within first.

    Thanks for providing the great guidepost from John Maxwell, also. I’m a fan of his work, and after visiting the link you provided to his site, I saw a few of his books I will be adding to my collection of “Must Reads.” Good stuff, mate. 🙂

    • Jon M says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and insights, Deone. Great adds! Although I am familiar with John Maxwell, this is the first book by him I have ever read. It is good, and it is providing a great basis for a new leadership group we have started in Dallas. Thanks again! Jon

  • Really could have used this advice when I was handed ‘the keys’ to my first team. The last thing I was looking for at the time was to move into a leadership role. It was bad enough I was going through a divorce, but to make matters worse the reason for the unexpected ‘promotion’ was that my boss wanted to cut back her hours to spend more time with her toddler. So here I am in a new job I didn’t want, with a lot more responsibility and work, and every afternoon I was treated to her smiling face as she walzed out at 2pm to go home and spend quality time with her son. Somehow I managed to turn things around, and (here’s the lesson) dredge up a positive attitude about the experience … and that opportunity resulted in a job offer that was a huge step up in my career (and financial situation). I’m not sure which was more rewarding, that job offer or seeing the look on my boss’s face when I resigned 🙂

    • Jon M says:

      It is always interesting to see how those challenging situations can turn around into something positive, too! Great point, Marquita. Your story also points out how to remember the context in which we lead in. Life is happening outside of work, and we just need to recognize that at times. Appreciate your insights! Jon

  • Chris Taylor says:

    Great write up. I was a young Navy ensign I had the same challenges. I was half the age of the senior enlisted and competing with those at my level. It was tough but an excellent opportunity to learn in a demanding environment.

    • Jon M says:

      Thanks, Chris, for adding to the conversation, and “learn” is the key word. Leadership, new and old, need to learn from experience and grow from them.

      Thank you for your service to our country, Chris. Very grateful. Jon

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