Have you got what it takes to be a leader?
Carl was great in his job. He had wonderful performance reviews and got a great raise every year. At some point, he began to think about moving up into a leadership position. And when his manager mentioned it as a possibility, Carl became quite excited. Ultimately, a suitable role came up and Carl was promoted. He would now be leading a team of which he had been part of. Once the “honeymoon” was over, Carl got a good taste of reality. And it wasn’t pretty. He had to make some tough calls. Some of his team members began to see him differently and became cold. He had to take partial responsibility when someone on his team messed up. He then had to deal with the team member to make amends. All in all, Carl went home discouraged and upset many nights.
Carl is facing what many new leaders do, he wasn’t prepared for the challenges. He had not thought through whether he had got what it takes to be a leader. The story does end well, fortunately. Through some leadership training and just plain experience, Carl grew into his leadership role. For those of you who aspire to be a leader, you might want to ask yourself some cold hard questions. If you don’t like the answers, develop a plan to prepare yourself for success.
Questions to ask to determine if you have got what it takes to be a leader
1. Can you let go of your previous work paradigm?
Many new leaders have a tough time doing this. They cling to their old work habits and roles and fail to begin to see the “bigger picture” that involves achieving company goals, delegating to the team, and getting the work done through the team, rather than doing. You might love your new role and being the leader, but if you find yourself dealing with the day-to-day minutiae of your old paradigm you will need to find ways to shift your focus. Often, this involves some development work.
2. How are your communication skills?
There are some important skills that must be learned. To be a leader means you have to be able to translate company and/or project goals to your team so they can see the importance of what they do. They need to understand why tasks and task deadlines are important. And, if you can do that pretty well, how are your listening skills? Good leaders meet with their teams as a group and individually to establish mutually respectful and caring relationships. Part of building relationships means asking questions and then shutting up and listening. Team members need to feel their leaders value them and their opinions.
3. Do you believe in leading by command or by influence?
A leadership style that is authoritarian and dictatorial rarely works in today’s work environment. This is the old command and control paradigm. This style leads to an “I tell them and they do what I tell them” environment. The result is often resentment and lack of loyalty on the part of a team. With this style of leadership, you usually find low morale as people lose motivation. Leadership today must be far more collaborative in which members of a team believe they have some control over their work lives.
Influencing, on the other hand, comes from relationship building. Team members want their work to be completed on time and willingly pull their weight because they have loyalty to one another and to their leader. Are there times when a more authoritarian style is necessary? During a crisis, this may be necessary, but if the relationships are built, team members understand and respond well in these rare situations.
4. Can you make tough calls?
A member of your team is under-performing. You have attempted to be a mentor, a coach, and a teacher, but things are not turning around. Can you give a poor performance review and outline steps for improvementt? Are you able to firmly set out a robust timeline for those improvements to occur? And if improvement still doesn’t come, are you able to come to the conclusion the individual is not right for the team and you have to either move them to a more suitable job or even terminate their services?
5. Can you hire highly talented people without feeling threatened?
There are leaders who surround themselves with very mediocre people by design. Then they jump in and micro-manage to accomplish goals and tasks so they can claim responsibility for successes. These leaders lack confidence. Good leaders see value in hiring talented people. Talented people can often carry out aspects of the job much better than the leader. They make life much easier. Giving credit for the accomplishments of their talented team is something an effective leader does by default.
6. Are you willing to be held accountable for your entire team?
In a non-leadership role, you are accountable only for your own performance and behaviour. Once you become a leader, however, you are ultimately responsible for everyone’s performance. If a team member makes an error, you will hear about it and be expected to fix it. Fixing it does not mean criticizing the team member. It means you look within. Did you not communicate well? Did you provide the right resources? Have you developed them sufficiently? Were you not paying enough attention? You will have to address the error with the employee, but you first you must determine what you can do to make sure any mistakes are not repeated.
7. Are you willing to set an example for your team members?
Leaderships has its perks. For one thing, no one is watching how long you take for lunch if you arrive late or leave early. No one, that is, except your team. If they have the impression you are becoming a bit of a slouch they will become slouches as well. Demonstrate a healthy work-life balance, while occasionally being willing to work out of normal work patterns when it’s crucial. This shows you are committed to getting things done, but you also value your home life. This gives the message you expect them to be committed to working well, but equally to value their lives outside of work.
8. Do you know how to motivate your team?
This one should not be too hard. Think about what motivated you when you were a member of a team with a leader who helped to stir your own motivation. There are two behaviours which are imperative. :
- Recognition/praise for a job well done. You may not be able to impact bonuses or other financial rewards, but research shows such a reward is not as impactful as genuine praise. Do not shower team members with praise on a daily basis. It loses its effectiveness. Provide recognition and praise when it is truly deserved.
- Be there and willing to pitch in when necessary. A deadline looms and everyone is rather in a panic about it – you too. A good leader “joins the troops” during these times and does whatever is necessary to serve those team members as they need help, food, encouragement, and so forth. When it is all over and the deadline met, plan a celebratory event.
Some of these questions are tough. And maybe you did not have the answers or maybe you are uncomfortable with how you answered some of them. That’s okay. Becoming a good leader is a process, not an event. You have to find the resources to learn what you have to learn, be willing to admit you don’t have all the answers and commit to continuing to learn and grow into your position.