As I was getting ready yesterday morning, my phone news feed contained this headline – “The One Question Every Leader Should Ask.” The question is geared toward first-time leaders:
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
You can read what Roxanne Taylor, chief marketing and communications officer at Accenture, wrote, and I hope you take a few minutes to read my answer.
First-Time Leaders: Preparation
The question is one a new leader should answer along with experienced leaders who are about to tap someone for a new role. For first-time leaders, it is important to gain the perspective of those who have the stories of success and failure. As an experienced leader, it is important to prepare someone as best you can.
Preparation delivers the foundation but not all the answers. A good foundation will survive all the preparation that can be done. The reason: We cannot prepare for what unknown experiences will come our way. Our foundation will keep us from falling too far when unexpected challenges arise or when people try to throw us off our path.
First-Time Leaders: 5 To-Dos to Prepare
Here are my five slices of advice for first-time leaders:
Ask about the expectations
As a new leader, it is essential to understand the expectations of your boss.
- How do they view your new role?
- What metrics will they expect you to drive and achieve?
- What type of information do they want from you?
- What is their preferred way of communication?
- When do they want to be involved?
- Why did they ask you to take this leadership role?
Each question delivers insight on what is expected of you and provides an important opportunity to gain clarity before beginning your new leadership role.
The last question is particularly interesting. Knowing why someone asked you to fill a key leadership role helps you to keep those skills and capabilities fresh. More than skills and capabilities, it may be your mindset. Don’t lose what helped you get your first leadership role. Just enhance from here.
State your expectations
Equally important to understanding someone’s expectations is for them to understand yours. Specifically, your expectations should center on mutual trust and mutual respect. If there is a concern, they should come to you first. If there is a question about why something is being done, they should come to you first. Any backdoor attempts should be closed with the direction to talk to you first.
The same goes the other way. You should first ask your boss when a concern or question arises. You should never use your boss as a scapegoat. Mutual support builds greater positive momentum.
Mutual trust and respect will eliminate politics as much as possible and help each other do more with less friction. Clarity of interactive communication is an expectation that needs to be set upfront. To be successful as a first-time leader, you do not need to begin to wonder what your boss thinks. Keep your communication channel open and clear.
Know your leadership philosophy
You may know my perspective already on having a leadership philosophy. A leadership philosophy sets the stage for how you will lead. If you don’t know how you will lead, then you will likely blow in the wind as soon as the first headwind hits. You need to understand how you want to lead so that you lead in this way as consistently as possible.
Having a leadership philosophy is not set in stone.
- As you learn, you will adapt.
- As you resolve challenges, you will learn.
- As you solve a crisis, you will adjust.
- As you succeed, you will enhance.
What it means is you will have a learning mindset. A learning mindset separates good leaders from great leaders. Be a great leader by beginning with a thoughtful leadership philosophy and then tweaking as you learn and grow.
Be ready for the worst
Bad times will arise. Will you be ready?
To be ready for the worst, keep a healthy mind and body. Exercise, eat right, and take time to unplug. Being fit is more than just exercise. Be fit in mind and what you eat as well. No matter how busy you are, time spent to maintain a healthy lifestyle is time spent to thrive as a better leader.
To be ready for the worst, build healthy relationships. Your spouse, partner, friends, and community colleagues provide you with the ongoing support, advice, and fun to keep you fit in spirit. You need sounding boards to bounce ideas from and people to keep you on track when the path gets messy. Be around people who make you better and return the favor as often as you can.
To be ready for the worst, know what your core beliefs are. Core beliefs are written in stone. What won’t you do that keeps your integrity and character intact? To keep your core beliefs clean, build a six-month savings so you can walk away if you are ever asked to do something that sacrifices your leadership credibility.
Be ready for when the crap hits. It will. When it does, you want to have the backbone and fortitude to survive and thrive. Healthy mind, body, and relationships create a leadership buoyancy. Knowing your core beliefs will be your leadership compass.
Keep centered in the best
Good times usually happen more than bad ones. However, we sometimes get off track more during the good times than the bad. Good times can incent a certain laziness or a lax quality in our core beliefs. We want to feel the good times rather than use the time to strengthen ourselves.
Keeping centered in our good times is important. We need to spend the good times building our financial reserves. More than this, we need to spend time in our communities by giving back our time in helping social good organizations. Spending time in our communities keeps us centered in real life and creates a mindset of giving and gratitude.
In good times, we can lose the core of our leadership soul when we ignore the challenges that still exist within our neighborhoods and cities. We need to keep our leadership ability focused on where we can do the most good. By doing so, we will strengthen our leadership heart by boosting those around us.
Leadership Advice to First-Time Leaders
My five slices of advice for first-time leaders:
- Ask about the expectations
- State your expectations
- Know your leadership philosophy
- Be ready for the worst
- Keep centered in the best
A theme that runs each slice is clarity.
- Clarity in what is expected of you
- Clarity in what is expected of them
- Clarity in how you will lead
- Clarity in survival
- Clarity in purpose
What advice would you give first-time leaders?
Join the Conversation
Tactical To-Dos for First-Time Leaders
Another excellent post Jon!
My advice would be…
1. Remember what it was like to be led.
2. Know your non negotiable values.
3. Know the difference between what you can and cannot control.
4. Take responsibility for problems when you need to.
I loved all of your points Jon, especially the part about having 6 months in savings as a backup so that if you are ever put in a situation where your values are compromises, you can leave.
Most of us have probably found ourselves in that situation more than once in our lifetimes….but without the finances to be able to leave….
And each day we are stuck in that setting…a little piece of our heart and soul dies.
Great post Jon. Thank you!
Excellent first-time leaders advice! Points 1 and 3 especially resonate for me. In point 1, empathy comes to mind, remembering what we like about our past leaders and learning from the people before us (embracing the good and preventing the bad). Point 3 is a great reminder… we can control our habits, behaviors, reactions, etc. We need to focus on what we can control and let the rest go or determine how we can lead through it.