First off, congrats on your promotion! You deserve a pat on the back for a job well done. After all, they wouldn’t promote you if you weren’t good, right?
Still, you can’t help your nerves right now. What if your peers don’t take you seriously? Or what if they take you too seriously? Are you really cut out for this whole leadership shebang? To that last one, the answer is a definitive “Yes” — if you’re willing to do a few things first.
Know Your Leadership Personality
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no “right” leadership personality. Some leaders are as bubbly and charming as a Zooey Deschanel character, while others — to quote Peter Drucker — have about as much personality as frozen mackerel. Despite this, they manage to do just fine (on the leadership front, at least).
And how do they do that, you ask? Well, it helps to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. You can take a personality test, like the DiSC profile, to know what leadership skills you already possess, what skills you need to work on, and what this means for your potential success/failure in your new position.
Know Your Team
One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is to assume that all employees on their team are the same. Some are pliant, others are stubborn. Some are competent, others are not-so-competent. Some are jacks-of-all-trades, while others are masters-of-one. That’s what makes them human, after all.
So pay close attention to your team. Take note of their individual strengths and weaknesses. Learn what makes them tick. Find out which tasks suit them best, and which tasks they tend to shy away from. This way, you won’t have to deal with trying to fit square pegs into round holes.
Let Them Know About the New Leadership
It’s always a good idea to personally inform your team about your new position, even if they get the memo from someone else. After all, you’ll be interacting with a larger group of people from now on, and some of them may not even know what you look like. They’ll want to associate a human face with the new leadership, at the very least. Others will be your friends and peers who will be leery of your new role – how will things be now that you’re not “one of them” anymore?
So schedule a meeting with everyone. Preferably, the meeting will be at 3 P.M. on a Tuesday, since that’s the time when people are least likely to be busy. Introduce yourself, give them a general overview of your mission and vision, and use it as an opportunity to get to know your team on a personal level.
Start With Small Changes First
When you got promoted, you probably had tons of ideas on where to take the company from this day forward. But don’t pour them all out to yet. You don’t want to overwhelm them before they even get to see who you are as a leader.
Instead, implement your proposed changes on a piecemeal basis. Change the small processes first, before tackling the big ones. Don’t forget to inform everyone about the changes before getting them off the ground, and don’t be afraid to revise if a change doesn’t seem to be working.
Act Like a Leader
Whether you like it or not, your new position will change your relationships with your former peers. Some of them will be happy for you, while others will resent you. Give yourself time to accept these new attitudes towards you, and roll with them.
Also, you’ll have to draw new boundaries as a leader. You can still go out with them for Happy Hour, but don’t want drink yourself silly. It’s possible to be an approachable leader without losing the respectability due your position.
Don’t Be Afraid to Offer Criticism
This is probably the toughest part of being a leader. How do you praise a superstar employee without letting the compliments get to their heads? How do you criticize an underachiever without hurting their feelings?
There’s no “right” answer to these questions, to be honest. Some people are more receptive to criticism than others. That’s why it’s important to take step #2 on this list, so it’ll be easier to tailor feedback according to each employee.
You can try the “sandwich approach” to feedback, where you “sandwich” a negative statement between two positive ones. If you’re queasy about this method, however, or if you think it doesn’t really work, try alternative ways of offering feedback other than the “sandwich method.”
Prepare for Difficult Employees
It may be cliché, but it’s true: You can’t please everyone. There will be subordinates who won’t like you no matter what you do. It’s tempting to use your authority to “put these troublemakers in their place” in the harshest way possible, but don’t. You’ll only give them more ammo against you. Instead, take the high ground, and pick the best way to deal with your particular brand of difficult employee.
Don’t Be Afraid to Mess Up
All of what’s been discussed so far sounds simple on paper. But the truth is, leadership is one long process of trial-and-error. Even the best leaders make mistakes. (Just read Jack Welch’s book “Winning.”) Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t gotten the hang of leading people yet. With time, patience and experience, you will.