The leadership development industry has done a disservice to the global marketplace. After nearly 30 years in the space and as an executive in one of the leading firms, I've been part of the problem.
We've convinced everyone they need to be a leader, and in my opinion, it's just not true.
I've come to believe too many of us were lured and not led into leadership roles. Want to earn more money, get promoted, move from a cubicle to an office, gain more power or influence? Just want to feel important? Then your only option is to move from being an independent contributor to a leader of people.
However, most people don't know what they're getting themselves into when they move into a leadership position. Many times, they try to replicate their unique talents across the team, and it rarely succeeds. They get frustrated, loathe their new job, and flame out--or worse, stay and suffer.
But there are steps new leaders at any level can implement immediately to transition successfully into leadership roles:
1. Challenge your mindset about what made you successful in the past, versus what will make you successful in the future.
The transition into leadership absolutely requires new talents. You can grow them, but only if you're aware of them. Ask other leaders what they struggle with. What have they mastered? What still surprises them about the role?
When you're clear about what your team needs from you, assess which of your strengths still apply and which skills you need to develop. You might be surprised. If you're willing to acknowledge you need to develop new skills and even leave some successful ones behind, you're going to be a stellar leader.
2. Understand your contribution to culture.
Everyone observes how you behave--much closer than you'd like. They watch what you say, what projects you elevate, which meetings you cancel (or check out in). They watch which bets you double down on and which ones you abandon.
Every move you make is analyzed, debated, and often replicated in the hopes of garnering your respect, attention, and favor. So, be more deliberate in your actions, words, and decisions, including how you spend your time. You're always creating culture--building it or weakening it.
3. Become a superb listener.
We've spent most of our careers becoming powerful communicators: talking, convincing, influencing. Driving home the message. Leaders think they don't have time to listen. After all, they were hired to have the answers.
But great leaders are, in fact, great listeners. They are insatiably curious about the perspectives, experiences, and insights that others bring. Listening is difficult. It requires patience, consideration for others' points of view, and a selfless investment in others' growth and validation.
4. Be willing to change your mind.
According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, 93 percent of companies with successful initiatives achieved their success with a different strategy than the one they originally set out with. He calls it "deliberate versus emergent strategy."
Are you willing to demonstrate the humility to know when to change your approach? Yes, you announced the grand strategy at the last sales conference or investor call, but now you've gained new insights. You're not just willing but confident to admit your pronouncement might have been flawed, slightly off, or even flat-out wrong.
Changing your mind doesn't always mean you were mistaken. It means you're more concerned with doing what's right than being right.
5. Recognize that your main contribution is to attract and retain the best possible talent.
In the midst of all the demands for results, you can't lose sight that your key role is to nurture talent. Are you secure enough to not always be the smartest person in the room? Have you matured to the point where you've become the conductor, not the virtuoso?
Your No. 1 job is to find the absolute best violinist, coach them, encourage them, provide vision and direction, and ensure they thrive. To quote Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers, are you the "genius" or the "genius maker"?
Organizations must become more deliberate and courageous about helping people understand what the life of a leader is really like. All parties need to go in with eyes wide open about the significant mindset shift necessary to transition from an independent producer to a leader of people. Too few understand it, let alone conquer it, but with a little help and guidance, there is a path forward.