Promotions are ever elusive but something almost every business professional seeks. Once earned, however, the time for rejoicing quickly ends when the realization of all the changes ahead sets in. Whether internal or external, becoming a new leader is a process marked by a series of transitions. For one, you’re now a steward of operations, and with that comes the often-thankless responsibility of managing resources. As you probably know, the duty won’t earn much favor within the ranks, as you’ll be making decisions that will inevitably impact the masses.
Those decisions, naturally, lead to the next of your transitions: Friends at work are no longer just friends. Cohorts have become subordinates, and you’ll find yourself creating professional distance between you and those you lunched with each day. They’ll likely do the same, which can be unsettling for those who value others’ opinions. Then, there’s also the matter of abandoning your former role and contributing more broadly to the company. It’s not just about how you perform but the contributions of your entire team.
Beyond that, you lose the ability to take umbrage with the decisions handed down from above. You’re part of the leadership team and must support not only the decisions, but also the goals and objectives of the executive team. Of course, this isn’t to say that you can’t ask “why” or “how,” but those are questions reserved for meetings with other members of the leadership team. Your job is to execute and deliver on what’s expected.
Innovation, as they say, is the mother of necessity. Adaptation is her first cousin, and your promotion will bring more than a few challenges, but they’ll be met with just as many opportunities. Below are just a few tips on how to embrace your new role and become the effective leader you were always meant to be:
1. Develop a growth mindset.
A growth mindset has long been attributed to an individual’s belief in their ability to develop their own skills and talents. All it takes is hard work, dedication to learning, and access to development opportunities. But a growth mindset doesn’t begin and end at the personal level—or at least it shouldn’t, especially when you’ve taken on a leadership role. For a growth mindset to become a tool for effective leadership, that belief in the ability to develop and strengthen your skills and talents must branch out to your team.
Even during times of uncertainty, opportunities abound for your team members to learn and grow. Sure, they’ll make mistakes, but that’s part of the process. Learning takes some trial and error. It also takes focusing on the process of whatever employees might be doing, not just on the outcomes. As such, allow room for experimentation within your team and yourself. Leading by example isn’t something people just say anymore. Better yet, disrupt your habits and routines. It’ll serve as a seed for change and prepare you for disruptions to come.
More importantly, practice self-awareness. Understanding your motivations, limitations, and emotional states can provide insights into those of the people you lead, helping you better identify moments or areas when you or your team can learn and grow. It’s all about becoming more present, pushing through failures, and having the perseverance to come out the other side a little wiser and that much closer to your organizational goals.
2. Create a strong support network.
As mentioned, becoming a new leader can dramatically change the dynamics of your work relationships. “Being a leader is often lonely and taxing,” says Merel van der Lei, CEO and CPO of Wyzetalk, an employee engagement solution geared specifically to the frontline and blue-collar industries. “Your actions and behaviors are scrutinized, and you’ll likely feel as though you cannot make mistakes or show uncertainty. Being a new leader in a different company increases this tenfold. Having a mentor, someone with an experienced and objective view, as a sounding board is crucial. It can support you in being successful, and it’s often essential for personal reflection and mental well-being.”
Though critical, mentorship is just the first piece of a much larger puzzle. A network of one isn’t much of a network, after all. You also want to create new business relationships and strengthen existing ones to create a network that can support you as a leader. Keep up with people you already know, of course, but think of ways to provide value to those you hope to establish a connection with. How can you be helpful? How can you offer support? What’s unique about you or your talents that others would see as a resource?
Board members and investors are good people to reach out to, according to van der Lei. She recommends sharing challenges and asking for people’s advice to build strong connections. Once you’ve started to show up for the people, your reputation will build upon itself. Those in your network will see you as reliable and trustworthy, which offers the obvious benefit of others being more willing to offer you a helping hand. It’s also of great assistance in adding new business relationship to your network. Suddenly, you’re gaining insights and information you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
3. Embrace adaptability, empathy, and decision-making.
The skills leaders need will vary from industry to industry and company to company, but there are three often seen as universal necessities: adaptability, empathy, and decision-making—or, more specifically, problem-solving. The need for adaptability goes without saying. Change is inevitable, and you’ll require the ability to recognize its signals to gather enough data to respond to those circumstances with the right plan.
Empathy, on the other hand, can be somewhat elusive, even more so when it doesn’t come naturally. However, this interpersonal skill allows you to step into another person’s shoes, which can provide insights into their needs. It also allows you to recognize where someone might be coming from, helping inform your interactions, manage expectations, and ensure they feel heard—which can be of benefit both inside and outside of your organization.
Decision-making and problem-solving may seem obvious. No one needs to tell you that making decisions, sometimes difficult ones, is typical for leadership roles. But the skill goes much deeper than that. It’s about a willingness to go down those rabbit holes to explore ideas and concepts that can offer a different perspective on business, the market, the consumer, and so on.
Listen more than you speak to understand what might lie ahead. Practice curiosity to get to know those around you, and always return to that growth mindset that you’ve been working on. Exercising each of these muscles can go a long way toward making you more adaptable, empathetic, and ready to solve even the most difficult problems.
Not everyone is cut out to lead, so recognize the fact that you weren’t just given but earned that promotion for a reason. Things will change, which can be uncomfortable. Lean into that feeling, and use it to develop the capabilities you need to become an effective leader.
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