Do you remember the day you became a leader?

You might not even recognize that version of yourself. Maybe you shudder when you think about the answer to that question, and you’re now trying to think about something else to focus on as fast as you can. I get it!

Transitioning from From Self-Leadership to Leading Others

The day I’m thinking of isn’t “the first day I led something.” That was back in high school, and I do shudder when I think of that awkward, pimple-faced kid. The day I’m thinking of is the first day I had someone who was being paid for their work who reported to me. I had done their job until that particular day. With my recent promotion (and theirs), I was now their supervisor.

If you’ve made that shift in your professional life, do you remember what that season was like? I hope it went better for you than it did for me!

I made many mistakes and if I could back with what I know today, I’d inflict less pain on the young man I supervised. What I discovered leading someone else involved was not what I expected.

Leading others involves an incredible amount of adaptation and flexibility, much more than I realized.

I had a phone conversation with the man I oversaw recently. A couple of days after that call, I thought about all I learned from my first role as someone’s boss.

Hopefully, these lessons can help you or someone you know make this transition. I hope you can learn from my mistakes.

No One is Great in the Beginning

I can remember being frustrated with my supervisee when he started – how much he didn’t know and the gap between his performance and mine. In my head, I was thinking, “I’m better at this than you.” A few moments later, though, I remembered, “But I wasn’t when I started.”

None of us are great in the beginning. If we reconnected to our past, maybe even walked a mile in the shoes of the person we’re leading, we’d recognize that everyone has a learning curve and it’s our job as leaders to help them navigate it well.

Performing and Managing Require a Different Skill Set

If you’ve not supervised someone else, there is one piece of wisdom I’d share with you. In the beginning, you’re going to be better at doing their job than being the supervisor of their job.

It’s crazy when you think about it. What got you the supervisor or manager role is a very different skill set than what will enable you to thrive in leading others. If I could go back to that young man I was leading, I’d tell him, “I’m better at this than you but I still suck as your boss. Please give me grace while I make this transition and I’ll do the same for you.”

Manage the Outcome, Not the Process

“Done by someone else” is better than “undone and still sitting on my plate.”

I quickly learned that “done by someone else” is better than “undone but still sitting on my plate.” I didn’t surrender and delegate well in the very beginning and if I’m honest, I still tend to hold on to the reigns tighter as a leader than I should. I remember that first supervisee apologizing when he did something different than I would have. I wish I had celebrated how his work was freeing me up to do what I only could do.

If you haven’t made this shift, I’d encourage you to focus more on the outcome than the process it takes to get there. When we start managing to an outcome, not micro-managing the process, it’s more likely we’ll get stellar results and respect from our team.

Be as Clear as Possible

In this book, The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni describes the four habits of organizational health this way. “Build a cohesive leadership team, create clarity, over-communicate clarity, and reinforce clarity.” Clarity is kind of important, I think!

Much of our frustration in organizational life comes from a lack of clarity. The drama, politics, unmet expectations, and meetings-after-meetings – they often stem back to a lack of clarity. We need to pursue and communicate even greater clarity, so our team knows what is sacred and where they can be flexible.

Offer the Training and Preparation You Never Got

Most of us were under-trained and under-prepared when we got started. We were thrown into the deep end and expected to swim. And there can be some value to this approach when done strategically. However, most of our experience in this area comes because someone else was haphazard, not intentional.

leading othersI didn’t spend nearly enough time with the young man who took my job. I failed to help him understand how I thought, what drove my philosophy and approach, and how I ultimately became successful.

At the beginning of overseeing someone, we’ll feel like we don’t have time to help them learn and grow. We’ll want to expedite the preparation stage. But if we were in their shoes, we’d want to be trained and invested in, empowered to succeed.

Help Those You Lead Succeed

Leadership requires more flexibility and adaptability than we ever imagine. Some of our greatest struggles as leaders come when we’re transitioning into new roles and letting go of old ones. We can all do better as we help other people succeed.

One of my leadership mentors, Todd Adkins, is always reminding those around him of an important truth. “A big part of leadership is recognizing that your fruit often grows on other people’s trees.”

The success of those we lead is our success.

Featured Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels
Additional Photo by on Unsplash
Leading others involves an incredible amount of flexibility and a new set of skills. Making the professional leap from self-leadership to leading others can be a tricky transition. Here's how to navigate through.