Leadership Is Not About How It Looks

It’s often said there is no guarantee that a standout performer will make a good manager. Leading a team requires a different set of skills than being a leading producer on a team.

Karen Dillon, a former editor of Harvard Business Review, says she learned this the hard way when she was promoted into a management position soon after landing a new job. Dillon says she was almost apologetic for landing the leadership role, which came at a time when her team was tackling a complex, first-time project.

Wanting to impress her boss with her handling of the project, Dillon says her immediate instinct was to place everything on her shoulders. “I worked longer hours and assigned myself all the tasks that I was afraid to ask my former peers to do. But soon, I found myself roiled by the frustration that my colleagues weren’t magically stepping up to the plate. Were they somehow waiting for – or worse, willing – me to fail?”

Act Like A Leader to Look Like One

Dillon says it didn’t take her long to realize that she was so concerned about how people – especially her supervisor – were assessing how she handled her new role that she failed to focus on what she should be doing to be successful.

When she stopped worrying how people were viewing her and started leading, things improved. Among other things, Dillon brought colleagues into strategy conversations, signaling that she valued their opinions.

Identify and Communicate Priorities

First-time managers are naturally nervous about starting on the right foot, says Anthony Tjan, CEO and managing partner of the venture capital firm Cue Ball. In a recent article for Harvard Business Review, Tjan offered important principles for first-time leaders:

Focus on the day to day of management and leadership. The best leaders are also the best mentors. But the day job of management and leadership involves allocating limited resources, whether it’s dollars, time, or people. Effective leaders always ask themselves whether they are budgeting dollars and their own time in areas that create the best long-term value.

Be clear about your communication and your top priorities. Be consistent about your purpose and your priorities. Tjan says one of the most important pieces of advice a CEO ever shared with him was to never have more than five top priorities. “Develop those priorities with your team, but remind them that you won’t be adding another priority to the list until you knock off one of the existing five.”

It’s OK to be scared and vulnerable. The best leaders are not completely confident they are always on the right track. “By recognizing that vulnerability is a component of all jobs and that it creates the potential for positive change, we come that much closer to losing our fear of it,” Tjan states. “Celebrate and embrace your vulnerability, because if you don’t feel any, you’re probably not pushing yourself hard enough.”