Derek Gerber is the global marketing director at Active PDF, the leading global provider of automated, server-side PDF tools. Derek...
A hard question to answer for a lot of people is, “What do I need to do to go from being an employee to being an impactful business leader?” Even more so than that, what needs to change in that time?
What do new leaders, essentially, people who have gone from being traditional employees to now being directors or an executive of some sort 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 leadership qualities do you need to develop?
Leadership Qualities – Perception is Reality
To start, I want to tell you a little story about the very first internship I ever had. This internship was for the Azusa Chamber of Commerce and I was excited to figure out what “intern life” was like.
I remember showing up in jeans, a collared shirt I had from high school, and ratty shoes. I looked over to my new boss and he was rocking a full suit.
I realized I wasn’t necessarily dressed for the occasion. As simple as this sounds, when you’re transitioning from being an individual contributor, or an employee, to now becoming a manager or director in the C-Suite, how you look matters.
Perception is the reality, my friends. How you talk, how you walk, how you handle yourself, and how you dress can be an essential aspect of reaching leadership success.
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 how you are perceived, which then becomes the reality of the people that you’re reporting to. My tip here for new employees who are moving to a management role is present yourself at the same level as your leaders. If your boss is casual, then you can be casual too. If your boss is wearing a jacket with jeans, then wear something similar.
It’s simple really.
Business Boundaries Matter
Next, boundaries are key to the development of good business leaders.
This can be difficult for people who go from peer relationships, where you’re working with certain individuals as friends, to a manager relationship, where you now have to direct the same people.
Think of it this way, they’re not really your peers anymore!
This is where boundaries are crucial. You might need to separate from the jokes you used to make, the activities you used to participate in, and other former habits in order for you to grow. Learn more about how to deal with this here.
Now, this is a personal management style of mine. Other business leaders may be able to be best friends with people and lead them.
My business partner is actually my best friend. A lot of the first employees here are some of my best friends. So I’m not saying you can’t be friends with people! However, there needs to be clear boundaries so when you are at work, you’re honoring them with respect and helping them grow in their roles as well.
This is important to note because your friends don’t always perform at the level that, frankly, you need them to for your job as a manager. If you can’t have difficult conversations it’s going to create problems for you. Be able to draw the line between work and your social life. I’m not saying it’s easy.
Good Business Leaders Don’t Lose Individual Contributor Status
I highly encourage you, if you’re managing a smaller team for the first time, to not lose your individual contributor status. Even if you don’t have 100% of your time to do your previous work anymore, don’t go from 100% effort to 0%.
The size of the team usually isn’t large enough to recognize the increased salary costs you’ve demanded 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.
Keep putting in the time and show your team you care; empower your people! This not only translates positively upwards but helps you maintain and earn the respect of your subordinates.
If You Don’t Report On It, Did It Happen?
Make sure you’re reporting weekly to whoever is writing your checks. You should have a weekly report that clearly and proactively synthesizes what you worked on, why you focused on those things, and what you’re going to be doing next.
When showing your efforts, you should show the difficulties you faced and the solutions you incorporated. You’re explaining to the person above you that you’re thinking about solving problems and taking your work to the next level in your management role. Then show them what you’re proactively going to tackle next.
If you do this every week, you will be amazed at the new freedom you get with budgets, with new initiatives, with time, and the vertical movement you’re going to create for your own career.
Leadership Qualities Take Time
Lastly, leadership is not so much about the title as it is the perspective. If you’re doing everything behind the scenes and nobody understands what you’re doing with your time, they cannot fully appreciate the value that you’re working hard to create.
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.
Did you hear that? Don’t lose your individual contributor status. 😉 Now get out there and make a difference.