By Patty Gaul

You’ve done a great job at what you’ve been doing—maybe as a marketer, a customer service rep, or a clinical nurse. So, you’re“rewarded”with a promotion to a leadership position. The only problem—well, the main problem, anyway—is that you haven’t been trained to fill the requirements of your new role.

And those new requirements for leading are many. Perhaps you’re overseeing people who have more experience than you; maybe you’ve never been trained on how to coach; maybe you’re unfamiliar with juggling interdepartmental rifts; or maybe you haven’t received any guidance on how to juggle being a contributor while leading people. During the ATD 2019 session “Leading From the Middle,” Katrina Coleman and Lyndley O’Dell, leadership and engagement strategists with the Maryland Healthcare Education Institute, provided tips on how to grow in a leadership role that includes managing people.

Four-Component Leadership Framework

Engaging with conference attendees, Coleman and O’Dell outlined a four-component framework to grow in the new leadership skills: 

  • thinking like a leader
  • acting like a leader
  • growing as a leader
  • knowing you’re a leader.

Thinking like a leader, explained Coleman, requires actions that “don’t pop up on the calendar.” To lead means stepping across a threshold, Coleman continued. It involves letting go of one’s ego; enlisting a servant mentality; and considering your direct reports as well as peers and higher-ups.

Continuing the analogy of daily calendaring, Coleman explained that while management strategies can appear on a to-do list, leadership strategies entail specific actions that will drive results. In other words, management is about looking down while leadership is about lookingout.

Growing as a leader is just that, O’Dell said—taking over the reins. It is a journey, and the keys to the journey include reflection and feedback. An individual growing in a leadership role may consider: 

  • What went well? What influence did I have?
  • What didn’t go well? What do I need coaching on? What did I not take accountability for?

Start, Stop, Continue

Combining several of these components, a manager may have a calendar item to check in with their direct reports. A leader, on the other hand, may pause and consider, “Is there someone I should recognize?” A leader may ask employees, “Is there anything I can do for you?” When seeking feedback, leaders open themselves to vulnerability. Questions a leader can use include “What am I doing that is working for you?” or (even more bravely) “What would you like me to start doing? To stop doing?”

The art of reflection also helps an individual grow as a leader and likewise includes the “start, stop, continue” elements. A leader may ask, for example, “What is one skill that I need to learn or improve upon to be successful here over the next two to three years?” “Where am I not taking accountability to the level I’d like to? I’d like to refrain from this behavior in the future.” and “What are two things that are working well that I want to continue doing?”

Knowing You’re a Leader

Just as growing as a leader is a journey, so too is knowing you’re a leader, stated O’Dell. And this requires connecting the dots. Unlike a contributor, a leader is privy to the big organizational picture. To do the best for the organization and for direct reports, a leader needs to align staff performance with the organizational picture. You’ll know you’re a leader when you think of results in terms of the qualitative and quantitative.

Vulnerability as a leader also involves giving yourself permission not to know everything, and to do things less than perfectly, and even to admit when you’re screwing up, continued Coleman. To assist as you take that journey, it’s helpful to seek out a new peer support group to combat the isolation you may feel when you’re no longer part of the employee cohort you were part of before you were promoted. 

Change Management

Being a leader—thinking like one, acting like one, growing as one, and knowing you’re one—usually involves helping guide the organization and employees through change.

As a leader, you can make a difference by asking and considering:

  • How can work happen differently?
  • What opportunities do I have to create trust, inspire excellence, and build competence?
  • How am I messaging change?
  • Why are we doing this change?

Leading through change is complex for many reasons—not the least is knowing only what did happen, not what didn’t

About the Author: Patty Gaul

Patty Gaul is a senior writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

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