There’s an old leadership parable that says, “He who thinks he leads but has no followers is only taking a walk.” It isn’t enough to simply claim to be a leader; it’s a responsibility and privilege that must be earned through consistent, hard work and a strong embodiment of core values.
This is one of the lessons that all new leaders must learn, but is especially important for those working their way up through the ranks of an organization. Yesterday, you were a member of the team. Today, you’re charged with gaining their respect and leading them forward, a seemingly difficult, though not impossible, task.
Here are a few pieces of advice for those recently promoted into leadership roles.
Your team is always watching and listening.
It’s incredibly easy to underestimate the weight of our words and behaviors, and the impact they may have on those who follow us. We may not realize it, but our teams are following our lead, even when we aren’t actively leading them.
When you’re new team leader, your actions and words are viewed far differently than before. The same words and actions that flew under the radar yesterday may find themselves burning under the spotlight today. They become actionable, occasionally evolving into the new standard of “how we do things,” sometimes whether you meant it or not.
Your team is listening to your words, watching your habits and taking note of your demeanor. What they hear and see, whether good or bad, is what they will do.
Lead actionably by example.
Your team’s behavior will be dictated by what you actually do, not by lofty speeches about culture and values. In this regard, it’s vital that you actively lead your team by example.
It’s a common misconception that leadership, who makes the rules, doesn’t need to follow them. While you hold your team accountable to a particular set of standards, it may be tempting to hold yourself to a different set. This could be a fatal downfall for an otherwise worthy leader.
Your team not only sees your actions as a representation of you, but also as a reflection of your feelings about them. Imagine, for example, that you expect your team members to be on time for meetings but regularly waltz in 15 minutes late yourself. If they know you’ll be late, what incentive do they have to be on time? If you aren’t there, how can you help keep them accountable to the desired timeliness? In this example, there’s a distinct lack of regard for the importance of their time, and your team may feel disrespected as a result.
If our team members are exhibiting unhealthy or unproductive behaviors, it’s also important to participate in some introspection. What actions did we take, or not take, that may have led to this outcome? What actions can we exhibit going forward to begin steering the team in a better direction? Accountability is a vital tool for all leaders, especially in keeping yourself accountable for your role in your team.
Energy and attitude are infectious.
Not only do followers mirror our actions, they also mirror our demeanor. When stress increases or a plan goes awry, your reactions, energy and emotions will set the tone for your team as they work through it. If you’re frazzled and panicked, they will be too, making it difficult to provide their best work.
In the book You’re It: Crisis, Change, and How to Lead When It Matters Most, the authors remind us:
“When you are leading, people mimic your actions and reactions. If you are panicked and agitated, followers duplicate that behavior…and when you begin guiding the action with calm and confidence, you prompt a similar response from others.”
Learning how to control emotional responses and remain calm under stress are vital not only to the productivity and well-being of your team, but for you as well. Keeping a level head creates a positive work environment that will allow you and your team to work more effectively with better outcomes.
As leaders, we are the thermostat for our teams. It’s up to us to set the tone and create culture through our words, behaviors and emotional responses. The direction of change starts with us, and the actions we take impact the morale and performance of our team members. As a leader, you have the privilege of having your team’s eyes on you, and it’s your job to become the type of leader they feel good about looking up to.