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The headlines in today’s Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reveal a strong economic picture. Here are just a few:
Years ago, I was a young infantry platoon leader in the U.S. Army. At the age of 22, the vast majority of my team members were older – some by two decades – and more experienced than me.
One day, my platoon was conducting a training exercise where we were patrolling in enemy territory. At one point, the soldier in the front of our patrol (a.k.a., the point person), signaled for everyone to stop. He then gestured that a danger area was in front of us.
New leaders can get easily lost in the moment and fail to understand the bigger picture. Perspective matters. Being new in the role, the leader might not realize the cyclical nature of the business or the importance of certain elements. What appears trivial at first blush may prove essential in the long run.
It seems obvious. A new leader is given a team of smart people who have been hired because of their abilities and potential. Of course, the new leader will engage them in helping make decisions.
Obvious or not, new leaders – or leaders at any level – struggle with embracing and engaging others.
There’s a dangerous discussion taking place in many organizations.
I invite you to consider whether or not you are participating in this costly conversation.
It goes something like this…
You & your teammates are discussing your company’s products or services. You collectively consider your offerings to be inherently brilliant, yet sales are missing the mark. Everyone agrees that the value you offer is clear – it’s well worth a customer’s investment. People just “don’t get it.”
As a leader, formal authority will only get you so far. People may do what you tell them because you’re the leader, but they will likely not give their best. As the expression goes, you can buy someone’s back and hands, but you can’t buy their head and heart. Heads and hearts are earned when you, as a new leader, operates from a position of moral authority.
As a new leader it is critical to remain fair and consistent. This can be tough as a new leader can quickly find himself under pressure to help a friend, bend the rules, or make just one exception. People who were once his peers now report to him. Handling the change in the relationship can be tough. Although the new leader’s intentions might be positive (e.g., wanting to gain support of key team members or trying to make a deposit with a reluctant follower), others might see things in a very different light. As Stephen M. R. Covey wrote in The Speed of Trust, “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.”
When a top performer, who is recognized for her potential, track record of results, and a growing skill set, is given her first formal leadership position, it’s not uncommon for her ego get the best of her. She starts to think that she needs to do it all. She needs to have all of the answers. She needs to carry the team on her shoulders.