The Biggest Obstacle Faced By First Time Leaders

The excitement and general feeling of accomplishment that accompanies that promotion to a leadership position is like no other.  After years and years of grinding it out, to be recognized and finally believed in by others for what you have long known to be an absolute truth, that you are indeed capable, is an unbelievable feeling.  Unfortunately, for every newly anointed leader, that feeling inevitably subsides only to be replaced with the reality of the situation. 

The fact is that if everything was perfect yesterday, you would not have been put in the position of leadership today.  So the challenges you are about to face are likely wide and deep.  And many of the things that have made you successful to this point are going to be obstacles to your future success. But one single obstacle, that you have perfected over many years as an individual contributor, is going to cause you to fail unless you quickly pivot hard.

The biggest obstacle to success for the first time leader is doing versus doing through others.

An individual contributor is recognized and rewarded for their own accomplishments.  Long hours of doing results in numerous successes that clearly have been rewarded.  Now as a leader, responsible for a team of others, what you do no longer matters as much.  Now your success is synonymous with the successes of the team members you lead.  If they fail, you fail.  And when they win, you win.

I have seen newly ordained leaders have tremendous success and I have seen an equal number fail in a blaze of glory.  The success and failure always is the result of three things that were not done in the first three months of the leader becoming a leader to pivot away from doing and towards doing through others.  So, to minimize the risk associated with now having to leverage success by getting things done through others, I offer three absolutes that must be built into the new leader’s 90 day plan. 

  1. Build Trust – This can be tough as it is likely that your peers just became your team members.  If you already have their collective respect than this process is going to be easier.  But even if you do, you should start the leadership position like you just started at the company and today is your first day on the job.  Approach all employees like you are getting to know them for the first time.  Get total clarity of what’s important to them, their dreams and goals, their strengths and weaknesses and their fears and concerns.  You have one chance to get this right as once trust is lost then it becomes very difficult to get back.  Don’t worry about the team seeing you as “the boss” – that is a power play of a by-gone era.  Instead, make sure in your first month that everyone sees you as a partner who cares more about their success than they do.  Do that and the trust will naturally emerge.

  2. Clearly Communicate – Doing something and asking someone else to do it are two very different things indeed.  My wife can knit a blanket in her sleep.  But, if she needed to give me clear instructions of how to knit it myself, well let’s just say that would be a major challenge (for her and me).  So many times as individual contributors, especially as our experience grows, we are able to do things without even thinking.  Now turn to someone new and dissect that activity to the lowest common denominator to articulate to someone else takes practice and patience.  The best thing you can do as a new leader is assume nothing and over communicate everything.

  3. Always Be Teaching – Sales leaders have long professed to sales team members “ABC – Always Be Closing”.  But now as leaders that should change to “ABT – Always Be Teaching”.  The best thing you can do as a new leader is teach.  You were put in the position of leadership because of your ability to get things done which has come from experience.  That is only valuable if you teach others to do what you were able to do.  Your ability to do that is the gamble that someone made in putting you in the leadership position to begin with.  Additionally, the greatest thing about being a teacher is that the teacher always learns more than the student. And, to top it all off, when you teach someone something what you are really doing is telling that person that you care so much about their individual success that you are willing to invest your time into that success – which leads us back to building trust.  So, always be teaching.

I hope you find value in this list to focus on over your first 90 days as a new leader.  Good luck and I wish you all the success you deserve.  And… by the way…. Congratulations.

Happy Leading!