Securing your first leadership position is exciting and cause for celebration; but it can also be overwhelming. Transitioning from ‘team member’ to ‘team leader’ is recognition of not only past performance, but also future potential. It means that the organisation believes in your ability to effectively lead others to performance success. 

However, becoming a new leader for the first time requires more than shifting to a new desk and, hopefully, enjoying a pay rise.  The role and responsibilities of a leader are fundamentally different to that of an individual contributor and success requires a mindset shift, willingness to learn and a genuine desire to lead through actions – not through a job title. 

The road to successful leadership is a journey and it is important to be patient when learning new skills and to reach out for support when you feel overwhelmed. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect leader’ and unfortunately there are also no secret recipes as every business, industry and team member is different.  Below are 10 skills fundamental to assist with new leader success. 

1. Adopt a growth mindset

It is common for employees who are the strongest technicians to be promoted to leadership positions, however this can cause frustration when they are used to being the best at their job to embarking on a steep learning curve. If you experience this, change your mindset from “I don’t know how to do this” to “I don’t know how to do this…..yet”.

2. Make the physical shift from individual contributor to leader

Many new leaders take comfort in their superior technical knowledge and fill their days with the ‘doing’ rather than the ‘leading’. Whilst every leader needs to know when to roll up their sleeves, you also need to be able to change your mindset from being the ‘builder’ to becoming the ‘architect’. 

3. Back yourself early 

Team members can smell ‘new leader fear’ a mile off and some will try and take advantage of this. Showing a little vulnerability is endearing in leadership; but too much creates a lack of support and will see workers seeking decisions elsewhere. You were chosen for a reason – so focus on what you can do and remind yourself of your motivators to succeed.

4. Get to know your team 

Building early relationships with team members shows authentic leadership and that you are interested in the person behind the performance. Set up 1 on 1s with each team member in an informal setting (e.g. over coffee) and be prepared to share your leadership vision and a little bit about you as a person. Don’t forget to ask what is important to them and how you can best partner for success! This includes understanding desires around remote working and individual motivators.

5. Communicate early and often 

No one appreciates a leader with a secret agenda. Be clear about expectations, but quickly back this up with how you will support them to achieve. Ensure that you are consistent and fair in your approach and always operate with an ‘open door’ policy. 

6. Understand that leadership is about respect

Many new leaders fall into the trap of ‘wanting to be liked’. Sure, it’s a bonus if team members like you; but what you actually want is their respect. Workers may not always agree with your decisions, but they are likely to respect them if you operate in a fair, engaging, and consistent manner. 

7. Don’t play favourites

Commonly, a leader is promoted from within a team.  This means that sometimes the person that you used to go for walks with every lunchtime is now a direct report.  Invite them to have a catch up and address the elephant in the room. If this person truly is a friend, they won’t be looking for leniencies or special favours.

8. Do your own performance assessments 

It is tempting to obtain a detailed performance handover from the last leader, but keep in mind that some workers can perform differently under alternate leaders. By all means look for red flags or key achievements but avoid engaging in ‘personal opinions’ as this can place an unfair bias on team members. 

9. Be open to learning from employees 

Some new leaders are so keen to take their new leadership role for a run, that they jump straight into making changes. This sends a message that the opinions and experiences of existing team members are not valued. Take the time to ask what is going well and listen to where the challenges are. Leadership is not about being the smartest person in the room; it is about leveraging the strengths of others.

10. Know when it is time to act 

One of the biggest challenges a new leader will face is knowing when it is time to address a behaviour or performance issue. Seek support from a senior leader early to gain coaching on how to best address the concern. Leaving poor performance unchecked can cause other flow on negatives outcomes such as poor engagement, culture, and productivity. 

Catch them doing something right 

Importantly, leadership is not about authority, a title or being in charge. You are not a leader if no one is following.  Rather than adopting a mindset that searches for issues, try looking for what is working well and the behaviours that are enhancing success. When you ‘catch team members doing something right’, you are letting them know that they are exactly where they need to be. 

Further information

Ai Group regularly conducts "Introduction to Supervision" training, designed to help employees successfully transition to leadership. 

For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.

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Georgina Pacor
Georgina is Senior Content Writer and HR Specialist – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 20 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.