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Don’t Fall Into The New Leader Trap

You’ve been promoted! After working hard to master your workload and impress your colleagues with your talent and dedication, you’ve been tapped to lead a team. Congratulations! Before you leap into your new role, though, take a minute to think about what a big transition this is. You don’t want to get off on the wrong foot, right? The impression you make on your staff and on your new peers in your new role is going to form the core of your future effectiveness. Here are 5 mistakes that new leaders make and how to avoid them.

  1. Keeping it too casual. The higher you climb up the ladder, the higher the expectations get. Everything from your appearance to your language will be judged for appropriateness, by people who want to be reassured that you are up to your new responsibilities. That’s not to say that you have to show up for work in a suit every day or never crack a smile. It does mean, however, that you need to make sure that you understand the culture where you work and that–because you’re the newest face in the leadership room–you make a little extra effort to exceed the mark, rather than falling short.
  2. Not cutting the cord. If you are now the leader of a team made up of your former peers, this applies to you. Although it may feel awkward at first, your job now is not simply to work beside them to achieve a common goal. Now it’s up to you to provide the vision and strategy for reaching that goal, and to provide whatever feedback is necessary to keep everyone focused and doing their best. Your first act of leadership must be to establish a new kind of relationship that allows you to remain accessible and open to your staff, while also prioritizing the relationships with your new boss and peers.
  3. Acting like you know it all. Even though you just got this promotion, and probably had to compete successfully against some pretty strong candidates to do it, you are still a newbie, and you have a lot to learn. Make sure you approach your new role with a student’s mindset. Ask lots of questions (and write the answers down or record them). Ask for feedback, and accept it gratefully even when it’s not what you want to hear. Make the most of your organization’s resources for management, on your intranet, in your HR coaching department, in books or online. The more learning you can do in these early months, while everyone around you knows you’re new and wants to help, the better.
  4. Being a perfectionist. It’s natural to want every detail to be just so when you start a new job. It can also make you crazy, which is not a good mindset for a leader. You will make mistakes. You will forget things. You will zig when you should have zagged. All of this is natural too, and dealing with it is part of leadership that no one likes to talk about. Be honest with yourself when you realize you’ve messed up, and look for the learning opportunity so you don’t make the same mistake twice. Be honest with your boss and with your team, too. It shows them that you hold yourself accountable and that they can trust you. You were promoted because you have the potential to succeed, which means accepting a learning curve and the challenges that go with it.
  5. Taking on too much too fast. Leadership is a many-layered project. Forming functional, healthy relationships with your team, learning the details of the goals and expectations you’re responsible for meeting, seeing the scope of the big picture and how your team/department/division fits into it, this adds up to a lot. In most organizations, leadership involves not only day-to-day management but additional engagement in special projects or cross-disciplinary or inter-departmental initiatives. Give yourself some time before volunteering for these, even if they sound fascinating. If you haven’t been assigned to anything beyond your day-to-day responsibilities after 6 months in your new position, have a chat with your boss to see where you could be most useful.

Being a new leader is exciting. You’ve earned the right to celebrate your achievement. Now the challenge is to conquer this new arena and become an effective part of the management structure in your organization. Avoiding these early pitfalls will make your journey far easier and more enjoyable.