Be a Better Leader as Your Job Gets Bigger
Transitions in scope and scale are tricky. If you continue to approach your work exactly the same as you did at the last level, you will surely fail. On the other hand, if you abandon all your best characteristics and approaches that won’t work either. As you work to be a better leader as your responsibilities scale, you want to stay true to your values, leverage your strengths, and be deliberate in finding new ways to serve your larger team.
Sam and Jenny
Take Sam. Sam was beaming with excitement as he told me about his promotion. He was in the throes of a transition from supervisor to manager. He’ll now lead leaders.
“But it’s scary,” he confided. “I know I have to handle this whole thing differently. I was very close to my team. We talked about everything and shared common interests. Now I must distance myself, not share too much, not get too close.”
Sam continued with the list of all her other behaviors that MUST change. I heard none of what must stay the same as his scope increased. He was at risk of losing the very best qualities I respected in him as a leader—particularly his ability to build deep trust and connection that led to loyalty and deep collaboration. People wanted to work for Sam, so he attracted an “A” team.
And then there’s Jenny who had been promoted for her long track record of strategic thinking and strong execution. Her new role was enormous and there was much to learn. We met to discuss her performance agreement and goals, and I asked, “So what’s your strategy for taking this team’s performance to the next level?” Silence. “What are you doing to build your team?” Crickets.
She’d been doing a great job learning and keeping things moving as they had before. But she wasn’t yet leveraging her best gifts, the ability to identify a transformational vision and rally the team around it. She was trying to lead like the leader before her.
How to Be a Better Leader as Scope and Scale Increases
If you’ve just been promoted, here are few ideas to keep in mind to ground your leadership and influence.
1. Inventory your strengths and opportunities.
Carefully consider the strengths that helped others see you as the candidate for this increase in scope and scale. You might even ask those who helped you get this role, “What is it about my leadership that made you think I was a good fit for this position?” Then consider how those strengths might work well in this bigger role and make a deliberate plan to leverage those strengths in your leadership.
Also, consider which aspects of the job come less naturally for you and make a plan to get the help you need until you can get up to speed. It’s likely that one of your new direct reports is a rock star in this arena. Have the humility to ask for help.
2. Translate the landscape.
You are in a wonderful position of having a more strategic seat at the table while having fresh memories about what it feels like to not have all that information. Pieces of the puzzle are coming together for you in a new way. Capture that feeling and share it with your team. Explain the strategy as you would have wanted it explained to you yesterday.
You can also use your new vantage point to help your boss and peers understand how the latest processes and policies are playing out in the field. Combine your old knowledge and new insights into an enlightened and integrated perspective.
3. Be visible, approachable AND get out of the way.
As a leader with a broader scope and scale, of course, you want to be visible for your larger team and you want to be approachable. But don’t get in the way. Nothing will annoy your new team more than having your door so wide open that employees skip right over their direct manager and come right to you,
Respect your team and their authority. Of course, there are important times for skip level meetings and interventions, but it’s important to respect your direct reports and the work they are trying to do with their team. Help them lead their teams more effectively by working through, not around them.
4. Listen, learn, and be strategic.
Go on a curiosity tour and learn all you can, but don’t react. You’ll be tempted to jump in and fix stuff because you have the answers, and perhaps can do it better than anyone else. That’s not your job anymore. Delegate the immediate fixing, and then take it up a notch. Look for patterns. Consider the strategic implications and root causes. Build cross-functional teams to tackle the challenges to make a greater impact.
5. Build better leaders.
Your most important work as a leader of leaders is helping them grow. The tragic truth is that many leaders spend less time developing their leaders as they increase in scope. Nothing will drive results faster than strong leadership at every level.
6. Respond versus react.
As your scope and scale increases, so does the gravity, quantity, and urgency of your challenges. Great leaders pause, listen, gather facts, and respond. Sure, that response must often be quick, but frantic reaction slows down helpful behavior. Learn to keep your cool early in the game.
7. Become a Roadblock Buster.
Spend time making things easier for your team. Find out where they’re stuck, and offer to remove roadblocks. With that said, here are two words of caution. First, don’t jump in without asking. Too much help will make your team feel like you don’t trust them. Second, be sure to take a moment to teach your team while you’re busting down those barriers.
Oh, and be sure YOU’RE not the roadblock. Respond quickly with needed approvals and work to diminish unnecessary time wasters and bureaucracy.
8. Invest in your development.
Many leaders spend less time on their own development the further up they go. Don’t fall into that trap. As your scope and scale increases, so does your responsibility to lead well. Get a coach. Have a collection of mentors. Read constantly.
What’s your best advice for becoming a better leader as your job gets bigger?