Transition to First-Level Leadership

LeadershipThe transition to first-level leader involves much more than being willing to assume a different or broader set of responsibilities. It really begins with a psychological shift. In fact, new ways of thinking and behaving are required for success in the new role. Shifting your thinking about your role is often the most difficult challenge. It is helpful to examine some of the old and new attitudes about supervision to create a baseline for yourself. Note or highlight the items that best describe you.

Old Attitudes: Insists on doing it your way; Tell people what to do; Show little interest in the opinions of employees; Tell people what is expected; Considers information as management property; Usually determines the best methods; Believe people should do their own job; Believes that maintaining order and control is management’s most important job; Feels accountability rests principally with the supervisor and their boss; Discourages risk taking; Believes jobs need to be tightly defined.

New Attitudes: Open to new ideas and approaches; Sees self as a coach; Open to feedback; Lets people know what is expected and why it is important; Openly shares information; Believes everyone is responsible for improving methods; Encourages teamwork; Better to deal with change effectively than to try to control what happens; Feels everyone must accept and share accountability for the work performed; Encourages responsible risk taking; Believes that jobs should be flexible to adapt to changing needs and opportunities.

Competencies for First Level Leaders: The transitioning leader needs to master the basic leadership competencies, attitudes, and behaviors that are critical in their journey to first-level leadership.

Managing the new and changing workforce, in terms of its needs, expectations, and composition, has a major impact on the transitioning leader. Today’s worker is a part of many teams, has more flexible job duties and there are more women and greater diversity in the workforce. Increasingly, part-time and temporary workers are replacing the full-time workforce.

Employees no longer expect to retire from the organization with which they began their careers. The concept of retirement has changed and employees remain part of the workforce in their 70s and 80s.

Transitioning leaders must know how to maintain a productive and motivated workforce despite these changes and lead in a way that meets the needs of the flexible workforce. Leaders now establish mutual expectations with employees so each individual knows what to expect from the organization and what the organization expects from them. Leaders seek to establish win-win relationships with their employees.

Influencing others and being an organizational steward is in. Historically, supervisors used power to tell others what to do and to assert standards. Now they use their power to influence others. They must also have a good understanding of the various ways to use power and change to fit the situation. This requires effective interpersonal skills. They will be successful only if they influence others to promote actions, programs and activities that are in the best interest of the individual and the organization.

Another shift is the big-picture point of view, rather than a narrow, functional one. This means that transitional leaders must recognize the interrelationships between their department and others. Transitional leaders must gain employees’ commitment to the organization’s vision, mission, and goals. They determine their department’s priorities based upon what the organization needs to do to remain competitive and maintain aligned with the overall actions of the organization.

Building a strong team is another challenge for the transitioning leader. They must encourage and work to build strong teams. They facilitate and seek involvement and participation that leads to continuous improvement. They foster empowerment with accountability and work across organizational boundaries. Making the shift from being a “doer” to a facilitative transitional first-level leader should be rewarding for you and the team.

Understanding the basics of your business is necessary to keep employees focused on key performance measures that are important to the organization’s competitive future. To do this, they make sure they understand the basics of their business and industry. These “basics” are the critical performance criteria that provide the competitive edge or advantage for their organization. These criteria in turn are reflected in the standards and measures that first-level leaders use to evaluate performance. Understanding the basics also includes searching for and adopting the best practices. First-level leaders should maintain an awareness of what their most successful competitors are doing. They avoid “not-invented-here” attitudes, and work to incorporate the best practices of others to improve their organization’s products, processes, and relationships.

Managing change is also a challenge for the new first-level leader. They must see change as an opportunity rather than a threat, and use it as a means of bringing forth new skills and abilities in others. Leaders work to minimize resistance to change. A key aspect of this is communicating what is changing and why, and then getting employees to accept the need to alter the status quo. In this way, leaders use their influence skills to help open the door to change. Transitioning leaders must be able to understand how an upcoming change looks from their employees’ perspective. This helps to work with employees in a sensitive way to accept change. Whatever the change, leaders must ensure their own attitudes, behavior, and priorities shift in a way that is consistent with that change. The employees need and expect consistent signals about what is expected of them in return for their support of the change.

Your view of the job is critical. As you think about the five leadership competencies, ask yourself how your job needs to change. An important aspect of the transition leader is to affect changes in how you spend your time each day. Many of your responsibilities may remain similar but will be done in a different way but the responsibility level will change a great deal.

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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