Here’s a story I’ve heard too often: A young professional has finally arrived at a leadership position because of their relentless pursuit of achievement. To their surprise, the moment is bittersweet. While they alone bear the responsibility for their team’s success, they find that they’re unable to control what determines it. The realization hits them that they finally have authority, but they can’t seem to use it to move their team in the right direction. Not to mention, they are impacting people’s lives – both positively and negatively based on the decisions they make every day.
Ultimately, it isn’t quite what they expected out of their dream job, and they begin to think, “Maybe I shouldn’t have pursed this leadership position so relentlessly.”
Being a leader is different and more complicated than you can imagine, but don’t let the unanticipated stumbling blocks make you rethink it. It’s the toughest, yet most rewarding experience any young professional can undertake.
Some surprises for a new leader arise from lack of experience and knowledge limitations. But most happen regardless of your pedigree. I have discovered that nothing in a leader’s background prepares them to know the right thing to do all of the time.
Through my personal leadership journey and working with, interviewing and studying great leaders, I have found five surprises to be most common. How well and how quickly new leaders understand, accept, and confront them will have a lot to do with their success or failure.
It Takes Longer Than You Think
Before becoming a leader, most people have been successful in their previous roles. They are skilled in their craft and relish the opportunity to lead a team or organization. They want to get results, and get them fast, and that’s a good thing. However, remembering my favorite proverb is vital when taking on a leadership role: “Patience is a Virtue.” Any new leader should memorize or put it at the top of their whiteboard. In this fast paced “I want it now” society, it’s so easy to forget. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Doing great things takes time; so, if you are a new leader, prepare yourself for a marathon, not a sprint.
Your Character and Values Will be Put to the Test Sooner Than You Think
Few people would argue the importance of character and values in a great leader. But new leaders aren’t necessarily used to the power and responsibility that comes with their new role. You will find yourself in a position that requires tough decisions to be made, and your principles tested. Doing what you believe is right all the time, will not only make your job easier, it will make you a respectable leader.
People Matter the Most
The leader is undoubtedly the most powerful person on any team. Yet the minute they believe this power makes them more important than any one member of the team is the beginning of the end. Remember it’s people who; build software, maintain client relationships, take action towards reaching goals, and make you laugh. Losing sight of your most important resource is a surefire way to stagnant results. People should take precedent over everything else.
You Are Always Sending a Message
Most leaders, regardless of experience know that their actions get noticed by their team. What new leaders generally don’t realize is the extent to which those actions matter. Team members watch and communicate about everything. These observations impact culture, motivation, and work production among others. Keep in mind, not only do your professional actions matter, but so do the personal ones.
You Won’t Have All the Answers
Experienced leaders know that they won’t ever have all of the answers, while new leaders think they need all the answers, and they need them now. It’s actually a liberating experience to figure out that you don’t have the answer to a problem. Then and only then are you able to reach out and listen to the team around you. The best leaders are able trust and rely on their people to help him or her solve problems and reach goals.
These 5 surprises carry some important lessons to help young and emerging professionals. My hope is that realizing these things early will help millennial leaders be better-prepared and productive.