Three No-No’s for New Leaders

Looking back with 20-20 honesty, which of the following three no-no’s were you guilty of when you first became a leader?

Many freshly minted leaders fall into unhelpful patterns that will boomerang over time. They don’t realize that maintaining a respectful and civil work environment is crucial to their team’s performance (and in fact also to the very way they are perceived as leaders). Here are three sink-or-swim no-no’s:

  1. Don’t succumb to New Supervisor Confusion Disease.  Your unmitigated allegiance is now to the organization. Don’t get confused by the belief that you can maintain your old friendships as if nothing had changed. If you are ‘friends’ with some of your employees and visibly show it, that will inevitably create the impression of favouritism and exclusion. When people feel excluded, their body secretes stress hormones, their concentration is compromised and the pain centre in the brain’s Anterior Cingulate Cortex gets activates. None of this is good news for anyone involved (including yourself).  Remember that in your new role, it is your responsibility and privilege to create a civil work environment where everyone can perform at their best, free of anything that compromises their dignity.
  2. Forget about the popularity contest. When you take on a leadership role, it’s no longer about being liked, it’s about being respected. As a leader you must take actions that will decrease your popularity in the short term, but over the long term will earn your workers’ respect. This is especially true if you were promoted from within the team, because you will need to deal head-on with many of the problematic behaviours that you had observed while you were an ordinary teammate. Bottom line, being liked is nice-to-have, but being respected is the must-have. If you want to be popular, get that need met elsewhere.
  3. Clear the decks or else. Many newly appointed leaders walk into a team culture that has sanctioned uncivil and even low-level harassment behaviours. Cliques, gossip, eye-rolling, belittling others’ opinions, sarcasm, foul language and off-colour jokes are some examples. You’ll need to take action on these immediately (even if it means embarking on those unpleasant performance management processes). If you don’t tackle the issues immediately, you will get inducted into that negative culture and it will be exceedingly difficult to make changes or manage performance later on. Clear the decks immediately, or be prepared to learn on your own skin that what you permit, you promote.

If you have juicy stories about respect-related mistakes you’ve made as a new leader, please do share them with me – they might find their way somehow to being useful to others via this blog (one never knows).


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