Membership vs Leadership

Posted in management by Christopher R. Wirz on Tue Mar 08 2016

Note: For this post, assume you are a leader.

Leading a team is a lot different than simply being on the team. Making the transition from a member to a leader is a challenge as well.

The most obvious challenge is managing people today who were friends and colleagues yesterday. They could feel that nothing has changed following the transition to leadership. Even worse, they could expect special treatment. This can be mitigated by addressing issues early and openly. Communicate that along with your new responsibilities come new expectations for interactions.

As a leader, your door should always be open to talks will be confidential. Within the team the leader will expect to be held to high standards. Also, there are some things that a leader can no longer do (such as going to happy hour each week). A leader must draw these lines to provide clarity about how things have changed.

Another common issue is resentment. Someone else may have wanted the job. Others may not feel the new leader is qualified. For these instances, the leader should act quickly and not make a big deal about it.

Meet with them privately. Clarify your perceptions and state observations. This can include attitude, something said, or overheard comments. Always state your expectations moving forward. Be clear about why you need their support for the team to function correctly. Ask for their agreement and compliance. Usually, one sit-down like this will stop the unproductive behavior. Be sure to document your talk for your files to refer back to any agreements.

The final common challenge is performance problems. It is not always the leaders that create these problems, but they have to manage them. It is best to meet privately, describe the issue, and be specific. Articulate expectations moving forward and follow up as needed. Always document everything.

New leaders should start using informal 1-on-1 meetings. People might not want to speak up in meetings. Meeting 1-on-1 gives employees a different setting where they might feel more comfortable. It also gives you a chance to ask for feedback or propose ideas you have for upcoming decisions. Informal meetings are not scheduled. Drop in, be brief and listen carefully.

A leader should have decision resolve. Employees must believe in you. Avoid changing decisions that you already made.

Note: Decision resolve, not changing old decisions, is different than commitment escalation bias which is making new decisions that support old decisions despite new evidence to the contrary.
Be thoughtful. Seek team input to increase confidence.

When it is time to be decisive, make the call, explain it, and stick with it. If you change a decision often to appease others, your resolve is eroded. Resist changing decisions and let teammates know you have confidence and resolve.

If you are a new leader, make at least one early pro-employee change to show the team you are here working for them. This could involve a new amenity such as a coffee machine or water cooler - something that everyone wants. It could be as simple as removing one small rule everyone hates. The team will thank you and will subconsciously allow you to transition into the team's leader.

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