Right out of college, I worked in the IT department as a help desk representative for an insurance company in upstate New York where I grew up. I was the person you called if you had a computer problem, forgot your password, or couldn’t get the printer to work. I didn’t really know much about leadership or managing, but from the outside, it looked pretty great!
Better pay, better title, a nice office, and more authority. It seemed pretty straight forward, and a nice reward for hard work. I thought when you became a manager, you had finally “made it”. But I'm not sure I was prepared for leadership.
One day my boss told me he was going to hire another customer service representative to help me, and that this new employee would report to me. Four weeks later, I became a supervisor for the first time. I had no idea what I was doing. I received no training, and no one sat me down to guide me or set expectations for how to manage. I thought my job was to answer my employee’s questions and assign tasks. I wasn’t the worst supervisor in the world, but I certainly wasn’t the most influential and engaging either.
I quickly figured out that management wasn’t so straight forward after all, and frankly, not as fun as I had imagined. I wish my manager would’ve given me some insight about leadership and what being a manager actually meant.
The reality is that many leaders don’t receive any training or direction about how to effectively manage and lead a team. What is required to be successful as a leader continues to evolve and become more complex over time, which leaves many managers unprepared for leading and engaging a team effectively.
As leaders, we need to guide and coach potential supervisors and managers about what leadership really entails before they become leaders.
Perhaps then we will begin to fill leadership positions with people who want the job for the right reasons: to serve others and make an impact.
Before you promote an employee to a leadership role, give them a peek behind the curtain so they can see the reality of what leadership is really like before they make the leap.
Some examples of the realities of leadership:
- You are the one held responsible when your employee fails
- Your days will be a series of meetings, employee complaints, and upward delegating
- You will rarely have a minute to yourself
- Your role will completely change: you will be responsible for mentoring, coaching, and facilitating results (not the technical job you once held)
- It’s often a thankless job
- People won’t always like or agree with your decisions
- All problems will make their way to you
- You will spend significant time training an employee to do something you can do in five minutes
- You will often work long hours
- You will leave the office many days wondering what you actually accomplished
- Meetings and more meetings…did I mention meetings?
In short, effective leadership is not easy; it requires skills in planning, strategizing, facilitating, dealing with challenging situations, and adjusting your leadership style. Your focus is people, not things, and people can be complicated.
Of course, leadership can also be very rewarding and fulfilling, but it also takes a lot of energy and effort.
Employees are motivated differently, they all have different personalities, and not everyone will share your work ethic. As a leader, your job will be to bring out the best performance in each individual employee to reach the strategic goals of the organization. This may not sound complicated, but many days it can feel like trying to run an uphill marathon when you haven’t eaten or slept in days.
True leadership is about service:
- it’s serving your employees by developing them and helping them reach their highest potential and personal goals.
- It's serving the organization by contributing your best to achieve long-term goals.
- It’s serving members and / or customers by having their best interest in mind and helping them achieve their financial dreams or reach the outcomes your company promises.
As organizations, we need to stop the practice of promoting employees based on technical proficiency or tenure.
Before you promote an employee to a leadership role, have multiple discussions about the realities of leadership and the skills and competencies required to be successful.
Conduct a true assessment of an employee’s skills and start developing those skills before you promote an employee so you can give them an opportunity to be prepared for their new role.
Leadership is a privilege and a huge responsibility.
Companies and organizations need to let people know what to expect - what their days will really be like - when they become a leader.
Who are you moving into Leadership and how will you ensure they are prepared for the journey and what will be involved?
Reach out if we can help you in the process! firstname.lastname@example.org
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Note: This post refreshed the 2017 blog “a day in the life of a leader” post.