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Leading for the first time

Leading a team of people when you are young is hard. Especially, when you may have members in the team who are your age or older.

The pressure to prove yourself is great.  You want to prove that your promotion is with good reason.

The urgency to rally your team and begin to produce results is great, as well as your anxiety when your team doesn’t quite understand what you expect of them.

In addition, when your team has a problem to solve, you feel, as their leader, you should be the one who has the answers.  The expert in the room.

In the time leading up to your promotion, you’ve been a top performer.  The way you have always approached your work has been highly productive in creating desired results, for both yourself and your company.

You begin to wonder and ask yourself:

“Why can’t I reproduce my success in those I lead by asking them to do things the way I did to get promoted?

You begin to share with your team how you did things, or worse, you question how they do things and tell them how you would like them to do it differently.

Evolution

Over time, you find yourself closely monitoring the performance of every task for each person, making sure that not only the results are to your liking, but the methods in which they are achieved are to your liking as well.

You begin believing that if you’re not getting into the minutia of every task your people are engaged in, those tasks may not get completed in the timeline you desire, nor to the quality you desire.

There is not enough time in the day to execute your own personal tasks and monitor the assigned task of your team.

You’re plugging back in when you get home to complete tasks you were unable to give attention to during the normal working hours.

Your hours of work increase, and your hours of sleep decrease.  Soon, you find yourself responding to simple questions days later, and not addressing tasks until they become emergencies, all while trying to make sure your team produces the results they need to produce.

Soon, you find yourself responding to simple questions days later, and not addressing tasks until they become emergencies, all while trying to make sure your team produces the results they need to produce.

Congratulations, you are now a Micro-Manager!

Here’s are 4 tips to help you when you are leading for the first time:

1. Get to know your team

When you step in front of your team for the first time, don’t try to impress them with your knowledge and experience.

I once sat in a meeting with a gentleman who was introducing himself as our team lead. He spent half the meeting reciting his resume.

He lost us all within five minutes.  No one will care about what you know, especially if they don’t believe you care about them. Get to know your people.

Spend time asking them questions about who they are; what they know; what their experiences are;  where they’re from; what they’re passionate about; etc.

Take time to establish rapport and find common ground.

2. Learn from your team

Allow yourself to become humbled. Be the student more than the teacher.

I had a colonel in the Marine Corps who put on coveralls and climbed under trucks with enlisted Marines who were fixing the trucks.

He asked them to teach him what their jobs were. He asked them to give him tasks.

And relating to tip#1, he used that time working with them to learn about each Marine he worked with.

He later told me that his knuckles were bloodied and he was sore from twisting and turning to get under trucks, but what he learned that day about his Marines, he would have never learned behind a desk.

What was more important, because he was willing to get shoulder to shoulder with his Marines, those Marines were willing to do anything for him.

My colonel put in just a few hours allowing his Marines to be the experts with him, and those few hours produced far-reaching results into the future when we needed them most.

When you ask people to share what they are passionate about, take notice of how their eyes light up. They will teach you something.

3. Be immune to failure

Allow your people to fail, and more importantly, let them see how you react to their failures.

One of the fastest ways to lose trust from your team is to stress-out in the face of bad news, adversity, or a team failure.

Remain focused on the team’s objectives. Remain focused on solving the problem. Give them the opportunity to learn from mistakes and correct them.

As humans, we evolved most by trial and error, not through books and classrooms. We all have an innate drive to take a mistake, learn from it, and turn it into a success.

If you give your people that opportunity, it will produce high returns well into the future. Moreover, it’s recommendable to try to avoid mistakes altogether.

4. Pass on praise and own criticism

If you and your team report to a higher person or team, make sure your team members see you owning the team’s failure, and not avoiding the accountability.

You are responsible for everything your people do and fail to do. If you are someone who desires all the glory and avoids all the blame, no one will ever want to follow you.

Imagine a member makes a mistake and you are questioned about it. Don’t throw him or her under the bus for the mistake. You take ownership of it. Your team will take notice.

And when good things happen, give your people all the praise. In today’s world, far too many leaders do the opposite. They take all the glory and avoid all blame. Those people aren’t leading anyone.


If you are a young professional, or entrepreneur moving quickly into leadership roles, you will find many challenges along your climb.

Make sure you never allow your position to define you.  Your position is simply an opportunity to lead, not a verification that you have arrived as a leader.

I’ll leave you with this one question: If you remove your title, would your people still follow you? If the answer is no, then you have some work to do in regards to your leadership and influence.

If the answer is no, then you have some work to do in regards to your leadership and influence.

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