Getting Ready for the New Job

This blog generally assumes that readers are already in a leadership role. If you are, that’s great. But it might be the case that some folks who are not yet in leadership positions are also checking this out, looking toward the day when they will be in charge. This post is mostly for them.

Leading employees is different from being an employee (ok, even the CEO is an employee of the firm, but you know what we mean). Even if you are the most talented auditor/graphic artist/HR specialist/game developer/whatever in your firm, that does not mean you’re automatically prepared to lead people who do what you do. Before making the leap into leadership you may spend years developing technical skills, all the while thinking “when I’M in charge, things are going to be different.” That’s a good attitude to have, looking forward to the future, but you should spend some of that time preparing for that leadership role. If you haven’t, and you are about to get promoted, then now is the time to take stock of your abilities and add whatever new skills you need.

There are some practical skills, like planning and budgeting, that you will have to learn. You may have contributed to this in the past, but now you are responsible for it. There are books on this of course, but you should talk with other leaders in your firm to understand your unique requirements. You also have to deal with regular paperwork, like time sheets, requisitions, invoices, and the like. And of course, if your firm uses formal employee evaluations, then you need to understand those. All of these are things you can learn within the firm.

But those are really management things, and while you need those practical skills, you also need the “softer” skills of leadership. By “softer” I do not mean going easy on people, merely that these are not technical things that you can study and then repeat. You need to learn how to motivate people. You have got to be able to evaluate them, counsel them when they are having trouble and promote them when they are doing well, learn how to identify their strengths and figure out where to use them…none of these are natural for most people.

Part of your preparation involves watching leaders during your career, learning from both the good and the bad. There is professional reading you can do, including some online sources, realizing that you need to apply these lessons appropriately for your firm. You should also look into classes, whether at a community college, a local university, or a training firm that offers courses in leadership (some of these are inexpensive, some cost a lot, and while some are very good, others…well, not so much — try to make your choice based on reputation and referrals rather than just cost).

Over the years I have worked for a few bosses who had no leadership experience and were promoted simply because they had been around a long time. Frankly, often does not turn out so well. If you are going to go into a leadership role you need to realize it is different from the job you were doing before, and you have to prepare for it. If you don’t, it is not fair to your firm, it is really not fair to the employees working for you, and it is definitely not fair to you.

(Designing Leaders offers a 1-day workshop for new leaders that you should check out)

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