When I was 24, I was promoted to the executive suite with little more than a prayer. The fact that I lasted six years in this job was a pure miracle. Since then, I have learned a lot through my personal experience and from the clients I coach who face untold leadership struggles.
Here are four key lessons learned.
1. Management is not for everyone
Too often people are promoted to leadership positions because they are next in line for the job. This is a common occurrence, especially among IT professionals. You are the most technically competent person on the team, so it stands to reason that you should be rewarded with a management role, regardless of your interests or interpersonal skills.
Great losses occur when an individual who is not management material is promoted. The company loses a great technical resource because it does not have time to work on technical challenges. People who are now under that person’s domain quickly become dismayed to work for a manager who is not cut out for a leadership role. Productivity decreases as employee turnover increases. The financial loss for the company can be astronomical!
[ Also read IT leadership: 4 tips on achieving your goals in 2022. ]
This is why I advise my clients to be very careful who they place in a leadership role. Take your time and make sure the candidate you are considering demonstrates strong leadership qualities.
2. It’s lonely at the top
The higher you go in the organization, the more you feel alone. Many people try to “fake it till they make it”, but it’s a tough act to follow. Fear of being seen as weak keeps many leaders from asking for help.
It’s essential to have someone to help you navigate the choppy waters that all leaders experience. Some leaders are lucky enough to work for an organization that supports executive coaching; others hire a trainer independently. Another approach is to form a peer group of leaders in similar roles in other organizations. If you choose this option, consider hiring a facilitator to ensure your meetings stay on track.
3. Having a seat at the table doesn’t mean you have a voice.
Early in my career, I was an executive who got to sit at the long table with people who, on paper, were my peers. I thought I was something else until the day when I discovered that what I had to say carried little weight with these colleagues.
I quickly learned that to be taken seriously, I first had to build strong relationships with those who held power in the organization. I hosted lunches with my colleagues, provided assistance where I could, and hired a coach to help me navigate the politics that unfolded daily.
It took a while, but eventually my colleagues started paying attention when I was talking. I credit my coach for this transformation because he was the one who encouraged me to slow down and invest my time wisely in building relationships up, down and across the organization.
4. Letting go is good for the soul (and employee engagement)
Many leaders find it difficult to let go of their day-to-day responsibilities. They try to control and monitor everything personally. The result is a team of demoralized workers who will likely seek employment options elsewhere.
If you’ve ever worked under a leader like this, you know how difficult it can be to stay committed. One of my former clients, for example, worked for a CEO who insisted on attending all meetings. My client held on for as long as he could, but after a call from a headhunter, he moved on.
Micromanagement is a matter of distrust. The micromanager thinks he can do things better or faster than anyone else. What micromanagers usually don’t understand is that their behavior causes long-term problems.
Members of the micromanager team often feel demoralized. They begin to wonder what their purpose is at work and whether their boss appreciates their contribution. Some employees relax and ride the wave, thinking their manager will make corrections no matter what they do. Others seek to escape. Meanwhile, the micromanager is stressed because there are not enough hours in the day to do his job and that of others. It usually takes intervention to get these leaders back on track.
Reformed micromanagers have generally experienced an epiphany. Maybe they’ve been given a 360 degree review that reveals their behavior, or maybe someone they respect is questioning them about their conduct. These leaders come to realize that employee engagement is entirely dependent on the very trust they are eroding.
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