“Hey, I’m not going to listen to some young punk kid tell me what to do!”
The first time I had an older teammate be disrespectful and test boundaries I was completely unprepared on how to manage it. Any snide comment, rude tone of voice, or even a sideways look left me puzzled and in search of how I could improve my leadership tool kit.
I was 17 and working at a local pizza parlor when I first became a leader. The training I received was focused only on the technical know how of making pizza, the building’s safety/security, and cash management. Leadership training involved making many mistakes and trial and error. It was slow and frustrating for my team and myself
Back then I didn’t recognize how differences in personalities, cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, and generations effected my ability to lead effectively. I was trying to treat others the way I liked to be treated instead of how they liked to be treated – which left me bloodied and bruised.
Fast forward a few years, I’m now 21. I just got promoted from a new accounts representative to branch supervisor. Again, there wasn’t a leadership-training program so I was left to figure things out on my own. One of my teammates, who was 15 years older, spent a lot of time testing boundaries. I remember there were days I would come home from work exhausted because of her shenanigans. The extra money I was making wasn’t worth the aggravation. When you are untrained and unprepared no amout of money is worth it.
I naturally practiced open and transparent communication with the team, I was nice, truly interested in people, what they liked, and what they were looking for in their careers. I couldn’t understand why I kept being tested, at times disrespected, and discounted.
I wish my current self could have sat down my 21-year old self and provided tips and a “how to” guide on being a new leader. Here are a few things I would have shared:
Communicate, communicate, communicate – Articulate your thoughts clearly and succinctly. Over communicate when change is involved. Always listen twice as much as you speak – ask questions to confirm understanding. NEVER assume! When speaking, understand people will hear the impact of your communication has on them – not what you intended to say. Ensure your words are always in alignment with your actions. Be humble. You don’t know everything. You will make mistakes so ask for patience. Always be transparent, open, and honest. If you don’t know – say that! When possible ask for your teammates thoughts and ideas but remember the final decision or action lies with you.
Get out of the trench – The trench is your strength and where you came from yet it is no longer your role. Get comfortable teaching and sharing expectations of desired end results but don’t micromanage the how to’s. Quickly learn what tasks and processes can be delegated. When delegating ensure the team member is well trained and understands how the task supports the big picture. Your team will appreciate you rolling up your sleeves and jumping back in the trench but do it only when needed. You know what it’s like in the trenches. Remember to shower your team with genuine appreciation – people who feel appreciated will always do more than what’s expected.
Be self-aware – Learn to look at yourself objectively. Study and critique your decisions and actions. Know your personality, your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, intrinsic motivators, and emotional intelligence fitness. Self-awareness is the divining rod to understanding how your actions and behavior are working or not. Also, this awareness is a key ingredient to making necessary changes in how you lead.
Create boundaries – Share your expectations and ask what each teammate expects of you. This process opens the door to accountability. Consider performance feedback as a gift – actually think of feedback as feedforward. Be timely, specific (with recent examples), compassionate, yet direct with all feedforward provided. Team members need to know how their actions and behaviors affect their team, the organization, and its customers. Always remember that any criticism you receive is given to help you become a better leader.
Build relationships – Help to bridge the work life integration gap by getting to know each teammate personally. Ask for and validate your team’s previous experiences and call on them when needed. Align their natural strengths in their role. Know how each teammate likes to receive praise. How about receiving feed forward? How do they like to learn? What are their intrinsic motivators? Where do they feel they are excelling and where do they feel they need more training and development? Treat each teammate, as they want to be treated. Know that your bias and judgment is a restrictor to developing strong relationships. Note: it is equally important to build relationships with your peers inside and outside of your organization.
Develop leadership presence – Think of yourself as a leader not a manager. You were chosen for the position, don’t apologize for your successes or promotion. Be confident but not arrogant. Walk the talk and don’t allow yourself to be intimidated. Respect your teammate’s ideals and ideas so they will respect yours. Respect takes time to earn and shouldn’t be forced. Don’t demand or command. Loose the need to be liked. Be kind and compassionate and know there are people who won’t like you just because you are their boss.
Find mentors – Expand your knowledge of leadership best practices and learn from others who excel in leadership. Why recreate the wheel? Why not instead find someone who has been there and done that? Mentor’s will provide you with non-judgmental support, and guidance. Older generations have the wisdom that younger generations are still acquiring. Mentors can help you learn to blend old and new ways so that your team buys in and supports the change.
Develop a learner’s mindset – Lean into your discomfort! It makes learning much more interesting and fun. By this I mean you are new at this, chillax and don’t fear being a newbie or making mistakes. If your organization doesn’t provide leadership development training, attend programs through your local university or community college but make sure you have your organization pay for it. Make it a life long habit to regularly read leadership books, magazines, web articles and blogs.
This is by no way an exhaustive list of what a new leader should focus on but if you focus on these areas you will be well ahead of the curve! My sage advice is just that…take it or tweak it.