Lessons From the Trenches, Part Two: The Challenge of Leadership
Step into your new role with confidence and clarity.
Great leaders don’t just point the way; they also give clear directions. However, it’s not always a simple task to inspire and motivate even the most willing of followers. Once you’ve thrown your hat into the leadership ring, you’ll be faced with new challenges. In part two of this series, we’ll expand on finding the leader within, and we’ll explore the best ways to handle challenging situations.
You’re the Leader. Now What?
Leadership positions are created, or they occur organically when a business expands. Whether you find yourself in a leadership role because of a natural progression, or because you sought out a new position, be confident. You’ve been hired because someone has faith that you’re the right person for the job. Now you must put that belief into action.
Of the two scenarios, stepping into a previously held position is the more challenging—especially if you’re transitioning from being an employee to being the manager. Leading co-workers can be tricky. It’s sometimes easier to coach a new team than to adopt a previously led group. However, it can work well when you do it correctly.
Begin by getting to know everyone on the team. Meet and greet staff during the first 30 days. If meeting each team member individually isn’t feasible, host small group meetings. Prepare two to three pertinent questions. Allow people to talk, while you listen intently and take notes. These meetings show that you care, that you’re interested and that you are prepared to make changes—when the time is right. Pay the bill if the staff meeting involves a coffee break or lunch. Positioning always matters.
Look the Part, Be the Part
If you’ve transitioned into a leadership position, it’s time to ditch the workout sweats and dress the part. It may seem counterintuitive not to wear exercise gear to a fitness facility, but you’re no longer working out; you’re working. A smart, professional look says that you are approachable and that you take your role seriously. The same goes for your office. Keep your space organized and tidy. This is not the time in your career to exemplify chaos or messiness.
And remember, a fancy new title or a nice corner office does not a leader make! Leaders must prove themselves. New leaders in particular are challenged to go above and beyond to make their team successful.
At some point you’ll be in a situation where you must give constructive or tough feedback. Yes, face-to-face meetings can be challenging. It’s not easy to deliver bad news, but leaders must. If this isn’t in your comfort zone, take extra time to prepare (this is key). Prior to the meeting, clearly define the issue. Next, predetermine the best outcome and be prepared to work with the individual to find a solution. Define the steps that must occur in order for everyone to move forward. Lastly, there must be buy-in. Sometimes the toughest part is agreeing to a win–win.
Practice using these four influential agreement steps: discussing the issue or behavior, stating the consequence if the behavior continues, finding a solution together, and holding each other accountable. For example, let’s say that Jennifer consistently misses mandatory staff meetings. The issue is simple: Jennifer must attend but doesn’t. How can you work with her to keep it from happening in the future?
First, state the issue clearly. “Jennifer, you have missed the last two mandatory staff meetings.” Investigate with Jennifer why this is happening. Listen to her answer. Next, state the consequence. “Because we share important promotional sales information at these meetings, it is essential that you attend. Otherwise, you may find it difficult to achieve your sales goals.”
If Jennifer says that she is not able to attend because she can’t find childcare on short notice, work with her to find a solution—and hold each other accountable. “Jennifer, moving forward, I will make sure you receive at least a week’s notice for upcoming meetings. Can you commit to finding childcare if that amount of notice is provided?” A yes–yes indicates that both parties have reached and agreed upon a solution.
De-Hire or Fire?
Letting someone go is never easy, but occasionally it must be done for the betterment of the team or organization. Consider the short-term pain as a means for long-term gain. Instead of focusing on the firing as a negative, view it as a better opportunity for that individual. “I have had to let staff go, and it is never easy,” shares Marc Lebert, owner of Lebert Fitness and Fitness Nation. “I’m learning that if the motivation is not there, it’s best to let people go: not just best for us, but for them. It’s better that they find more meaningful work.”
If you need to let employees go, obviously the current situation is not working. However, try to “de-hire” them first. Help them see that they don’t seem happy in their current position—in hopes they will decide for themselves that it’s time to move on. This often gives people “permission” to leave. Guide them in realizing for themselves that they are no longer happy. If that doesn’t work, you must do the inevitable and fire them. Keep it brief. Clearly define the next steps, and ask them to leave immediately. Regardless of how smoothly the firing goes, unhappiness may breed if people stay—even for the day.
Be prepared for fallout when people leave, in the form of disgruntled chatter or others quitting on their own terms. This is normal. When employees leave, whether on good terms or bad terms, others question whether they are really happy; some may decide it’s a good time for them to move on as well, and that is okay.
No one wants to hear, “Because the boss says so.” However, from time to time leaders must deliver information from upper management. This is not a challenge if you understand and agree with the directive. However, what if you don’t believe in the action? First, never disagree or be indecisive about sharing messages. Saying “This is what management wants” is not true leadership. Great leaders get on board, prepare for potential obstacles and lead the team to an understanding or solution. It’s a skill to know how to guide your team in the right direction, so practice. Ask a confidant to role-play with you, and create a scenario where you deliver the news and the other person fires back question after question. Once you can answer or defend them all, you’re ready to share the news.
If it’s a decision you don’t like, still deliver the news. Collect feedback from the team in a neutral way and then go to bat for them. Talk to upper management, share the resistance and be prepared with solutions or suggestions. Upper management doesn’t want to just hear problems. Your solution may become the better option.
Lead Like a Pro
Leadership will always come with different challenges. Be prepared, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find a mentor, and learn from that person’s experiences. Great leaders work with and alongside their teams. Challenges are opportunities for improvement and growth.
In the next installment, we will discuss how to become a better leader.
Solution: Put everything in writing.
No matter how clearly you communicate, messaging is a two-way process and can be misconstrued. Documentation eliminates the “He said, she said” scenario.
Challenge: Trying to do it all.
Great leaders give responsibility to others to help them grow and flourish. Employees are happier when they are given roles and responsibilities. “Delegating . . . frees up more time for me to do what I am good at,” notes Lebert.
Challenge: Not following through.
Solution: Underpromise and overdeliver.
Great leaders are responsive. The fastest way to ruin leadership credibility is by not following through. Good intentions are not good enough. It may be necessary to set a follow-up date. Exceed expectations by getting back with an answer earlier, or on the day promised.