It always feels great when we get offered our first leadership position, but we must not let this go to our head. The hard work starts once we are in position and too often first time leaders make mistakes that significantly impact their ability to succeed.
Here are 5 common mistakes that undermine first team leaders:
#1 – Distance themselves from the team
Leadership is a contact sport. We need to be able to make connections with our teams, engage with them and this cannot be done from behind the desk in a corner office. I appreciate that your boss may have led like that, but we need to get out of our office, we need to be part of the team. But too often I see people become leaders and cut ties with everyone beneath them, now that they have joined management they are no longer part of the team. This is a big mistake, as it’s the team that does the majority of the work, and creating a gap is the first step in alienating the team and making them feel inferior, which is not the action of a good leader.
Now we cannot be a leader and also be part of the gang, things have changed, but we shouldn’t look to accentuate it.
#2 – Believe their own publicity
Ok, you’ve been made the leader but don’t make the common mistake of believing that you are now the best of the best. Don’t look to flaunt your position or your power. You are still a rookie leader and you will make mistakes, but if you lord it over people, when those mistakes come you will find yourself on your own trying to fix it.
Everyone knows you’re in charge, it says so on your business card, maybe even on your office door, so there is no need to constantly remind people.
Good leaders are humble, they respect their teams, and don’t act like they are special.
#3 – Think they need to provide all the answers
As leaders it’s our job to get the best out of the teams, to set direction, provide the motivation and to support the team. It’s not our job to provide all the answers, and more often than not when leading teams of experts we maybe the least qualified person in the room.
Many people make the mistake that leaders need to provide all the answers, and this is just demoralising or demotivating for the team. At one company I worked a new leader was appointed who had no experience in the department but decided he would be the font of all wisdom within the department. This alienated the entire team and within 12 months he was relieved of his position. As leaders we do get to make the decisions but we should look to get as much input as we can, understand the opinions of others and then make informed decisions. Not only do we not need to provide the answers it would be foolish of us to try. The collective IQ of a group is always higher than the individual IQ of any one person, and good leaders leverage that collective knowledge.
#4 – Play Favourites
If we get promoted into a leadership position where we were previously part of the team, for sure there will be people we like more than others. But if we look to play favourites we will create divisions and damage the morale of the other staff.
It can be tough, I know that, we are all human and it’s natural to like some people more than others, but we need to work on being fair.
Fairness is a key leadership quality, it creates trust, builds engagement and fosters teamwork. We need to be objective in all our dealings rather than subjective.
#5 – Forget that leadership is about action not position
Leadership is not about giving out orders, commands or instruction, it’s about inspiring people to follow you in spite of the title rather than because of it. We need to make people want to follow us voluntarily, not because they feel they have to. The best way to do that is through action. Showing your team the way, showing them you care about them and supporting them.
Leaders who rely on position to lead do not build loyal followers, and when those people have a choice, they will choose not to follow you. I worked for a leader who used his position to force people to do things, he never asked he always told, and I remember the day we had a big problem and he needed volunteers to come in over the weekend to work and fix it, and to save his job/reputation, and not one person volunteered. They chose to let him fail, because he had not built any loyalty, he had just demanded it through his position.
In my opinion leadership is actually an easy, we just make it hard by making the mistakes above, which then alienate us from the people we need most.
If you want to be a good first time leader: be close to your team; be humble and don’t let the position go to your head; let your team provide the answers; treat everyone fairly, play no favourites; and inspire them by your actions, especially supporting them.