Steering Uncharted Waters As A New Leader: 5 steps to getting the support you need

February 7, 2018 Glenn Case
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Taking on a role as a new leader is quite daunting. The learning curve is steep, and one fraught with emotional ups and downs. Uncertainty is a common state of being. Unlike seasoned leaders who can rely on experience to inform their decision-making, new leaders are venturing into uncharted waters at every turn.

Unfortunately, support is not always easy to find. It's been my experience that often new leaders are forced to learn through the old "trial by fire" approach. Scant company resources are directed to assist them, at least in a structured "onboarding" format.

Complexity and change in today's leadership world is par for the course. So, as a new leader, how do you effectively navigate your new reality? What can you do to create a support structure to sustain and guide you when one may not be readily available to you?

Consider the following steps to assist you...

Gain clarity on priorities

I remember a saying from a colleague when I first became a manager: "What interests my manager fascinates me." At the time, this seemed quite self-serving. However, I eventually came to understand that his comment referred instead to the importance of aligning my own actions with the expectations of my boss.

Clear priorities are guiding lights for a new leader. Unfortunately, a lack of clarity can lead to a feeling of disarray and frustration. Some mid-level managers are very proactive in providing this direction. Many, however, are themselves inundated and that guidance you need may not be forthcoming. 

Start early to create a regular touch point with your manager. Ask to have it scheduled in your manager's agenda so that it gets blocked off. Use it as an opportunity to ensure your actions are aligned with his/her expectations. Communicate your plan of action and ask for input, and seek guidance where you have uncertainty.

As a new leader, you'll have many competing needs vying for your limited time and attention. Gaining a clear understanding of your manager's priorities can help immensely in your decision-making process.

Get a mentor

Leaders are first and foremost decision-makers. As such, they rely heavily on their experience when faced with management or people situations. New managers, however, have no such depth of experience to rely on.

However, a wealth of experience resides in your management team. Leverage this as needed, or ask one specific fellow manager to act as your mentor. This doesn't need to be formal. As you're faced with specific challenging situations, your mentor can provide advice and coach you on how to best approach them. I'd personally found this to be most useful when dealing with team issues such as interpersonal conflict, or specific individuals who were more difficult to manage. When you're feeling torn on how to move forward, your mentor can offer the direction you need.

 Be clear on what you need (and then ask for it)

This one is particularly important if you've found yourself thrown into the frying pan with limited support. As mentioned earlier, this happens much more than it should with new leaders.

A well-considered and specific developmental plan that you've created is difficult to be ignored by your manager. In all likelihood, he/she is well aware of the lack of established training offered to you by the company and will be open to your suggestions.

Take some time to assess your new role before you create your plan. Within the first three months, your most pressing needs and developmental gaps will become apparent. Consider what you need to fill these gaps. Get specific. For example, do your homework on any courses that you can take to help you along the learning curve. In my own first year as a new leader, I'd approached my manager with a 1-week The New Manager Course at Schulich School of Business. This was a significant expense for the company, but because it offered much of what I needed, my boss didn't hesitate. It ended up being an amazing learning experience, and was an essential component to building the foundation for my leadership career.

As part of your development plan, an option is getting an external leadership coach. Someone who's been in your shoes and understands what you're going through. Not only does an external coach offer experience and objectivity. He/she can also be a guide in the application of coaching technique - a critical component of a leader's repertoire.

Leverage your team's strengths

 As you get to know your team and their individual talents and abilities, consider how you can leverage these. This will allow you to redirect some of your day to day management activities so that your time is freed up to deal with more pressing issues. But, as importantly, in doing so you are sending a message about who you are and how you lead. Acknowledging and recognizing others for their abilities and empowering through delegation are potent means of establishing trust and increasing engagement. 

Show yourself compassion

Venturing into new leadership waters can and will lead to times of frustration, uncertainty, self-doubt and a whole host of other emotions. There will even be times when you question why you decided to make the jump.

Understand that this is normal. Choose to give yourself a break. Yes, learn from your experiences and highlight any learning gaps you may have. But also take the time to reflect on your experience and acknowledge yourself for the value you're offering to your team, your manager colleagues and your company. Remember you're in this role because you're a talented, creative individual that has much to offer. Recognize your progress and your daily wins. Choose to actively look for these.

This understanding came later in my leadership career. I wish I knew then what I know now. There is so much that is gained simply from taking the time daily to reflect, appreciate, and acknowledge what you do and the value you provide to others. Why is this important? Because then you own it. You're not held captive to external feedback that may be in short supply. Self-compassion also allows you to better manage the emotional range that comes into play when you're facing ambiguity and change.

Summary

In the absence of a robust "on-boarding" program, as a new leader you can feel overwhelmed, uncertain and alone. Support does exist around you, as long as you know what you need and ask for it. 

About Glenn

Drawing on 17 years of leadership experience, Glenn Case coaches globally in the areas of Leadership and Career Success. Contact him at www.glenncasecoaching.com or change@glenncasecoaching.com.

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