#ThursdayThoughts — Advice for First Time Leaders


A hard part to understand, I think, for a lot of people is, what do you need to do to go from being an employee to being a leader? Even more so than that, what needs to change in that time? What do new leaders, essentially, people who have gone from being a traditional employee to now really being a director, or a C-level, or an executive where they’re managing a team — what do you need to do? What needs to change for you to be an effective leader, and what should you be aware of? We’re going to talk about that today.

First and foremost, I want to tell you a little story about the very first internship I had. The very first internship I had was at the Azusa Chamber of Commerce. I remember showing up and I didn’t really have any money. I remember showing up in jeans, a collared shirt I had from high school, and ratty shoes. Then the boss, who I was working for, was in a full suit. In that moment, I realized, and I think something we all kind of learn is I wasn’t necessarily dressed for the occasion. As simple as this sounds, when you’re transitioning from being a individual contributor, or an employee, to now becoming a manager or director in the C-Suite, perception is reality. How you talk, how you walk, how you handle yourself, and how you dress is critically important.

Now, a lot of people might say, that’s all external stuff. And it is. I’m not saying that that makes you good or bad, I’m saying it affects your perception, which then does become the reality of the people that you’re still reporting to. My little tip here for new employees who are now going into management role, is dress as good as the boss. If your boss is totally casual, then you can be totally casual. If your boss is wearing a jacket with jeans, then wear a jacket with jeans. If your boss wears this, then wear that. It’s very, very simple. The person you’re reporting into, you should dress according to. Very, very simple and it will help you.

Secondly, boundaries are going to be very, very important. This is one of the hardest things I believe, is for people who go from a peer relationship where you’re working with all these individuals as peers, to a manager relationship, where now you have to manage your peers. But they’re not really your peers anymore. This is where boundaries are going to be so important. The jokes you used to make, the activities you used to sometimes do, you might actually need to create a little space in.

Now, that’s a personal management style of mine. Now, other people might be able to be best friends with people and manage them. My business partner is my best friend. A lot of the first employees here are some of my best friends. And so I’m not saying you can’t be friends with people, but there needs to be clear boundaries that when you step through the walls of work, or when you hop on during work hours or talking about work, that you’re honoring them with respect, and that because of the way you’re treating them, they’re noticing a difference during that time of the day, and thus there are boundaries in place. This is really important because your friends, they don’t always perform at the level that, frankly, you need them to for your job as the manager. If you can’t have difficult conversations due to the fact that you aren’t willing to set any boundaries in your relationship, at least around work hours or in the office, it’s going to create problems for you. I would really, really encourage you to recognize how important boundaries are as you’re a new manager and you’re really transitioning from a peer relationship to a manager relationship.

Thirdly, most employees who go to become a manager aren’t necessarily managing the biggest teams in the world at first. A lot of times when this happens, you’ve been in a smaller organization, you’ve done very well, they like to promote internally, you’re now managing a team of two or three traditionally. This is what I see happen a lot of times. You cannot stop being an individual contributor, especially if you’re taking on a new initiative, or a new role, or a new department. If not, you’re going to be perceived, whether you like it or not, by someone above you at some point as inefficient headcount. They will either think they’re overpaying you, they will wonder what they’re paying you for, or another problem is you’re not able to, quite frankly, efficiently lead if the people in such a small team don’t see you as the standard of excellence for the activities that you’re doing.

I would highly encourage you, if you’re managing a smaller team for the very first time, to not lose that individual contributor status. Even if you don’t have 100% of your time to be an individual contributor anymore, don’t go from 100% individual contributor to 0%. Because the size of the team isn’t usually large enough to then recognize the increased salary costs that you’ve demanded with your new title or that you’ve requested with your new title. In other words, you’re actually not creating the value that on paper you believe you are just because you’re managing a small team. Make sure you don’t lose your individual contributor status when managing smaller teams.

My fourth nugget of wisdom is, make sure you’re reporting weekly to whoever is writing your checks. You should have the weekly report that quite clearly and proactively synthesizes what you did, why you did it, and what you’re going to be doing next. Within the what you did, you should have difficulties, you should have solutions. You’re literally telling the person who’s writing you a check that, “I’m thinking about the same things you’re thinking about, here’s how I’m solving them in my role of management. Here’s actually what I’m going to be proactively doing next.” If you do this every single solitary week, you will be amazed at the freedom you get with budgets, with new initiatives, with time, and the vertical movement you’re going to create for your own career.

Leadership is not so much about a title as perspective. When you change your perspective to saying, “Here’s how I need to lead and influence and help others, and here’s the things I’m proactively doing,” and then actually recording that weekly, it’s not things that you perceive yourself to do, and no one else realizes, but instead, remember, if perception is reality, and if the way we look, the way we dress, the way we talk, the way we act matters, so also does the consistency of our reporting. Because if you’re doing everything behind scenes and nobody understands quite what you’re doing with your time, then they cannot fully appreciate the value that you’re so working hard to create.

In closing, first off, take a deep breath, it’s going to be okay. You’re new, you’re learning, but don’t lose your individual contributor status. Dress as nice as your boss dresses. Report to your boss every week with what you did, why you did it, and what you’re doing next. Don’t lose your individual contributor status.

Garrett Mehrguth
CEO & Co-Founder
Twitter: @gmehrguth
LinkedIn: Garrett Mehrguth
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Music: http://www.hooksounds.com

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