Many of my corporate and private coaching clients receive internal promotions and are super-excited about the opportunity to lead at a higher level. But they may now be managing people who used to be viewed as equals, peers, and competitors. That has the potential to become a sensitive situation, especially during your transition. If you let your new power go to your head, it can alienate those team members. But you also need to lead with bold confidence. That requires that you finesse your new role as a strong leader who checks your ego at the door to be more effective and ensure team member buy-in and allegiance.
Here are some key leadership rules of the road. They’ll help manage your transition while letting you accelerate through the curves.
Slowly Manage the Big Decision Process
Oftentimes when leaders are promoted they are impatient to make a name for themselves. But drive with caution in the beginning, and focus on how to build your new relationships on a solid foundation of trust and respect. It’s fine to make some decisive moves right away to establish your leadership. But postpone major changes or big, impactful mandates. First gain input and solicit insightful feedback from those you lead. That will help you better understand how to manage them and build genuine rapport. It also makes them feel included and valued, which automatically boosts your leadership credibility.
Define New Boundaries
You gain a lot with a leadership promotion. But you also lose some of the coziness you had with peers who are now under your leadership. If you don’t redefine those previous peer relationships with clear boundaries, others will think you are showing favoritism. Give yourself more social distance. You may need, for example, to decline invitations to lunch with former colleagues who are now your reports. Just explain that your new role is extra demanding. If necessary, be straightforward. Explain that you have to demonstrate to others that you don’t play favorites. Any close colleague will understand that and support your decision. It’s in their best interest, too. They don’t want to become an object of criticism for being the teacher’s pet.
Become a Great Asset
Too many newly-promoted leaders establish their authority by flexing their power. If you really want to raise the leadership bar, roll up your sleeves and be a more productive asset to teams you lead. Engage them with questions like, “How can I help you do your best work and boost your career?” or “What can I do to make this team better and increase your performance and morale?” Whether your leadership style is from the front or the rear, service to those you lead is the source of your genuine authority. If you never lose sight of that, you’ll thrive in your new position.
Leading Former Competitors
A recently-promoted SVP client of mine told me that one of his former peers had asked for the same promotion and didn’t get it. That can be awkward, so give them time to adjust to your leadership style. But make sure you articulate to them how valuable they are and how much you need them to ensure the whole team’s success. Empathize with their disappointment. But reassure them that they’ll get all the resources and support they need to advance their own career under your leadership.
Get an Insider’s Perspective
When companies promote internally, leaders are often better prepared to navigate the office politics of the C-Suite. But I have another SVP client who was promoted to the world headquarters, where he didn’t have longstanding relationships. He wisely sought out an internal mentor he trusted…to guide him, counsel him, and help him learn the ropes in that new environment. His mentor also challenges him and helps him stay on track and remain accountable. So if you’re getting promoted, find yourself a trusted advisor who has navigated that same challenging transition. Your relationship with them will definitely contribute to your success in your new role.
Raise the Bar Sooner, Not Later
Be patient. But don’t wait too long to raise the bar. Another client of mine said the worst problem he had when he got promoted was he waited to long to implement higher standards. The more that time went by, the harder it was to get his team aligned with higher performance goals. When you’re newly-promoted all eyes are on you to see if you can get great results, so don’t procrastinate. Hold your teams responsible to generate quantifiable outcomes. Otherwise you wind up feeling that you have to micro-manage them. But that stifles their initiative and creativity and wastes your time. You need to provide leadership defined by broad, all-encompassing vision.
The Bottom Line
People are the key to any leader’s success. Make sure you value and recognize them and keep letting them know that a big part of your job is to make sure that their careers develop and thrive. To do that better, find a trusted advisor who can be your sounding board, coach, and guide as you transition successfully into your new role.
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