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Top 5 challenges for emerging leaders

As you move into your first people leadership role it’s understandable to have feelings of both excitement and anxiety. It’s a big step. It’s no longer just you, now you have a team to care for. What challenges will you face? And how can you navigate them successfully? Let’s take a look at the five common challenges of moving into a people leadership role and what you can do to overcome them.

1. Letting go of being the technical expert

While this may seem obvious, there are many new leaders who are unaware that the transition into leadership necessitates letting go of being the technical expert. Your team are now the experts, and your role is to lead them.  When new leaders maintain a tight hold of their technical expertise, they risk micromanaging the team, and failing to deliver on their leadership responsibilities. Effectively, they are still delivering at the level of their previous role. In these situations when the leader is working down into the role of the team members, this forces their team members into even more menial tasks – all the while leaving the leadership responsibilities unfulfilled. To turn this around, step back, trust your team to deliver on the technical details, ask questions instead of providing advice and ensure that your team has the support they need to succeed.

2. Learning about leadership

As you transition into people leadership you will discover a brand-new world. There is so much to learn, and just as you are responsible for developing your team you are also responsible for developing you. The challenge here is how to fit this in. If you haven’t already established some effective learning habits, now is the time! Consider the following strategies to get your learning on:

  • Reading is a powerful way to learn and grow.  Consider reading a few pages at lunchtime, or an online article a day, or listen to an audiobook during your commute or whilst you exercise. Any of these options will expand your mind and enable you to learn from others.
  • Reflection enables us to see ourselves, others and situations from a different perspective. This is one of the most important tools we can use as we learn how to lead. If you’re new to reflection you can engage a coach to support you in this process or you might like to undertake some journaling which is simply a written reflection. 

3. Building your self-awareness

As you learn how to lead, reflect on your beliefs and your values and how they might support you as you face challenges.

Your beliefs about people shape your thoughts, feelings, behaviours and, accordingly, the results you get. When your beliefs are unhelpful, you can challenge them and choose to demonstrate different behaviours and achieve a different result.

Get clear on your values and use them to guide your decisions. Core values are the things you place value on, which drive your behaviour. Aspirational values are the things you would like to place value on, which aren’t driving your behaviour yet. How would you like others to describe your values?  Then ensure your behaviours and decisions are in alignment.

4. Understanding the impact of your systems

The culture and people processes around you influence how you lead your people. Good processes support good leadership and save you time in not having to reinvent the wheel, whereas poor processes can be challenging. Where there are few processes, or no processes, ensure you are clear on expectations by talking with your leader. Look for what you can and can’t influence and make improvements in the areas that you can influence.  Working through the challenge of poor culture and systems is an excellent learning opportunity, and you can always add some entries into your book of ‘What Not to Do’!

5. Building your support crew

The final challenge is to assemble a support crew around you – people you can call on for support when you need it who will help you through the inevitable ups and downs of your transition. Your current and previous managers, your peers, and your team can help and support you. Role models, past or present, can provide you with insights and inspiration.  Coaches can help you unlock new perspectives through powerful questioning. Maybe you have a mentor or two you can draw on.  Take time to ask these people for their support before you need it, so they are right behind you every step of the way.

As you learn how to lead, which challenge is the key focus for you? 

Anna Marshall, author of On your marks, get set… LEAD!: A beginner’s guide to people leadership, is an engaging facilitator, inspiring coach and entertaining speaker.

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