Updated: May 27
What Skills Will Help Me Lead Others Effectively? It May Not Be What You Think. Hope for the Reluctant Leader.
Are you a reluctant leader? Are you avoiding or worried about moving into a role because of the added people management responsibilities? The conversation usually goes like this:
ME: What are your career aspirations? What are you looking to do in your career? CLIENT: I would love to do X, Y, and Z, and move to a more senior level…but I really don’t want to manage people.
For many, this is a direct conflict. Generally, you can’t move to senior levels and continue to work as an individual contributor. I’ve found that some are reluctant to make this transition because they have false perceptions of people leadership. Adjusting those perceptions may help you move from reluctance to eagerness in pursuing and successfully transitioning into a people management role. Read on for myths, facts, and tips to help you make the transition.
Myth 1: Leaders are born, not made. Fact: Leaders are born and made. While some leaders have gifts in a number of areas, all leaders will tell you that they built and refined their skills through critical experiences, mistakes, earnest effort, and a willingness to accept feedback and change. Leadership excellence is a refined skill, not a genetic inheritance. A recent study assessed the value of genetics vs. learned behavior at 30% vs. 70% in leadership roles. The authors concluded that leadership development follows a specific progression: “ready, willing and [then] able” (Keating & Burgoon). Study participants who displayed leadership readiness fast-tracked their learning and improved their leadership skills more quickly than those who moved into roles reluctantly, lacked confidence, or were unprepared. Genetics may give some a faster start, but as the authors indicate, it ultimately comes down to the fact that ‘it’s not what you’ve inherited, but what you do with it that defines you’.
Transition Tip: Prepare yourself for a people management role by taking foundational courses on people leadership. If you don’t have access to one in your organization, consider free courses online at Udemy or edX, or read through the free Google course on leadership transitions available here. Then get ready to apply, learn, adapt, and grow quickly.
Myth 2: Leaders have all the answers.
Fact: If a leader believes they have all the answers, you probably don’t want to work with them. The best leaders possess a clear understanding of what they do...and do not know. People leadership is a team sport and objectives cannot be achieved alone. Great leaders seek and hire passionate people in diverse areas of expertise and bring them together to achieve a common and purposeful goal. Recent studies indicate that humble CEOs, those who are willing to admit their mistakes and limitations, are associated with less turnover, higher employee satisfaction, and better company performance. Even at Google, one of the most technically oriented organizations in the world, technical skills were at the bottom of the list for what makes an effective leader. So instead of worrying about what you know, start assessing the leadership situation for your team and identify how you can best serve those for whom you may soon be responsible.
Transition Tip: List the core responsibilities of your new role. Next to those responsibilities, list what you currently do and do not know. Some of what you don’t know, you’ll need to learn. But for other spaces, identify how you can rely on experts on your team to deliver and teach you along the way. On your list, be sure to include the key people leadership skills that are needed for success in the role (e.g., vision setting, empowerment, accountability, coaching, etc.).
Myths 3: I need a big personality and charisma to lead.
Fact. Extroversion and charisma are great leadership traits, but they’re not the traits direct reports crave the most. What are they looking for? Honesty, integrity, and a leader who is genuinely interested in them and the overarching goals of the organization (Gyles, Catalyst). I’ve had several clients say, “I never thought of myself as a leader.” For many reluctant leaders, their leader prototype is a charismatic, larger than life individual who rides in with a cape and all of the answers, ready to save the day. But in reality, if you are able to serve, you are able to lead. In several studies, employees indicate the leadership quality they value the most in a leader is Honesty. Employees want to work for someone they trust; someone whom they believe is genuinely concerned about accomplishing the mission of the organization and each individual who is working to achieve it.
Transition Tip: Avoid the temptation to define your leadership approach based on your personality, preferences, or interests. Instead, assess the business and team situation you’ll now be responsible for and figure out what is needed to accomplish the mission. In a leadership program I was orchestrating, a participant asked the CEO about his leadership style and preferences. His answer? “I am who the team needs me to be.” So instead of focusing on your style, focus on what the team needs and provide that instead.
Myth 4: My direct reports will take up all of my working time.
Fact: OK, you’re right on this one. Your direct reports will take up a LOT of your time. A recent study reported that 48% of the employees surveyed spent between 1 to 3 hours per week with their manager. However, the researchers also found that employees who spent an average of 6 hours per week with their manager were more engaged, inspired, motivated, and innovative. And if you’re at a more senior level, even more time was needed for a similar effect. I’m sure some of you just did the math (i.e., I have 8 employees! If I spend six hours with each one, I’ll never get my work done!). Good news is that the 6 hours don’t all need to be one-on-one or even in person. So, a 1-hour staff meeting is considered 1 hour for everyone. Whew! But whether you spend 1 hour or 6 hours, your direct reports will certainly require a lot of your time. And regardless of what your organization may say about ‘working managers’ and ‘player coaches’, being an effective people manager is a significant component of your role. As such, it will and should take up a great deal of your time. Consider it your motivation to building an empowered and capable team that eventually, will require less time for the mundane, and more of your time for true innovation and high-performance delivery. So instead of avoiding or lamenting (aka whining) the time spent with your peeps, embrace it as a critical component of your new role and make it as impactful as you can.
Transition Tip: View your “meeting” times as working time. Use time spent in meetings to ensure your team understands the vision and is prepared and capable to deliver on their responsibilities. Ask great questions and listen to understand their perspective. You may find yourself in meetings far more than you would like. If so, become an expert at calendar management. Schedule the right amount of time, but don’t over-schedule as we all tend to speak to the time allotted (do you see a lot of meetings end early?). Once you’ve mastered your calendar, use the meeting time purposefully to build relationships, share the vision, coach, and understand how to best serve the individual members of your team. Add some walking meetings or meet in a different location to mix it up. In short, embrace the time – it’s not going away.
REFERENCES: Myth 1: Northwestern Mutual Voice, “Are Leaders Born or Made?”. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/northwesternmutual/2015/03/23/are-leaders-born-or-made/#6ba61d873e29 David Rosch Keating & Lisa Burgoon. “Are Leaders Born or Made? New Study Shows How Leadership Develops”. http://web.extension.illinois.edu/ajmpu/news/news31624.html?_sm_au_=iRV6b4DfR50MH7Nr http://www.journalofleadershiped.org/attachments/article/7/13_3keating117.pdf :https://www.forbes.com/sites/northwesternmutual/2015/03/23/are-leaders-born-or-made/#4f324bf83e29 Google’s New Manager Training: https://rework.withgoogle.com/guides/managers-develop-and-support-managers/steps/review-googles-new-manager-training/
Myth 2: Ashley Merryman, “Leaders are More Powerful When They’re Humble”. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2016/12/08/leaders-are-more-powerful-when-theyre-humble-new-research-shows/?utm_term=.8b14fe1360c2 Adam Bryant, “Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss.” The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/business/13hire.html
Myth 3: Sunnie Gyles, “The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World.” Harvard Business Review. Catalyst Infographic, “Inclusion Matters”. http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/inclusion-matters
Myth 4: Mark Murphy, "Optimal Hours with the Boss Study", Leadership IQ, https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0860/7364/files/Leadership_IQ_Whitepaper_Optimal_Hours_with_the_Boss_Study_2014.pdf?4279660079233060856