Get it wrong, and it’ll irrevocably damage your reputation as you climb the career ladder.
It's tough at the top, and even harder to get there. But before you plant a flag and celebrate your successful climb, pause and think how you would feel if your reputation and your value to the organisation had both plummeted on the way up.
When we draw a typical career trajectory, it is a straight line between the bottom-left and top-right corners of the page. Your position on that line can give a good estimate of the relative value you provide to the organisation on each stage of your journey from worker to leader.
The risk to your reputation grows in stages, however. And that risk is greatest at the most crucial moment to your future legacy as a leader: the transition point between worker and manager. Get the transition right, and you build a strong launchpad for the rest of your leadership career. Get it wrong, and the opposite will happen.
A recent Gallup survey concluded that 82 per cent of managers are “wrongly appointed”. There are two contributing factors. First, selection based on the wrong criteria. And second, the failure of new managers to make a successful transition into their new role.
If you were selected just for your expertise and single-minded task focus, it’s going to be immensely difficult to let go of what was at the heart of your previous success. You may feel lost – as if you’ve been thrown in at the deep end – with little in the way of guidance from those above you.
Afraid of failing, you look for the security of task completion, when you should be coaching and supporting your team in order to maximise their output. Failure to delegate becomes exponentially expensive as you work longer and harder, trying to control the work of everybody in your team.
Because you cannot physically do everything on your own, output plummets and more mistakes are made. Frustrated, and exhausted, your behaviour towards the team worsens, impacting morale as well as productivity.
In this scenario, your value to the organisation, instead of rising along the scale towards, say, 50 per cent, plunges. There is some value in the individual tasks that you perform, but even this will evaporate as you continue to try to do everything.
But you can avoid this “leadership chasm”. Here are some tips:
First, change your attitude and rewrite your job description. You are now a manager. Accept the job change, and formalise your new responsibilities in writing. Do this, and you are also writing the first draft of your future legacy.
Second, realise that it’s not about you and serve your team. Recognise that your team doesn’t work for you, you work for them. Achieve this and you’ll see their performance soar. Success is through your team, not just you.
Third, delegate and be a coach. The more you let go, the higher your value will rise. Invest time in mentoring each team member so that they become as capable as you were, ensuring that they have all they need to succeed.
Lastly, collaborate and focus on what’s good for the business. Support other managers who depend on your team. If something goes wrong, sitting down for a chat and offering to help, rather than pointing a finger, will do wonders for your reputation.
Selecting the wrong managers is bad for business, bad for morale, and it pollutes future leadership pipelines – we are right to be concerned about the damage that it does. So think about the rewards that will be available if you can make that critical first leap.
Kieran Hearty is an executive coach and consultant and author of business book How to Eat the Elephant in the Room.
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