Leadership Woes? Recalibrate for Confidence and Success

by | Apr 15, 2024 | 0 comments

A version of this article has also been published in my column at the Globe and Mail (see it here).

Congratulations – you’ve been promoted. After earning your stripes as a high-performing contributor, you are now a manager and responsible for leading others. No problem, you think. You’ve been doing this job for a while and know all the ins and outs of the work and can manage with your eyes closed. You’ve earned this role. And you can do it! Wait. Barely into the new role and…something is changing. A feeling of being unsettled, unsure, and maybe overwhelmed. This leadership thing is not what you expected. Managing people is hard. Confusing even. Mistakes were made. Bumps in the road are coming at you with increasing speed. Am I cut out for this (you wonder)? Maybe I just don’t have it in me to be a leader (you second guess yourself)?

(Image courtesy of Perianjs on Pixabay)

And so the story goes. I’ve met (and coached) countless new leaders over the years who have expressed all kinds of angst and worry about their abilities when stepping into a new leadership role – either their first, or a higher level of leadership. Wait (again). Pause the panic button (I tell them). You are right where you are meant to be. Your feelings are normal. You deserve the role. It’s just that there are a few (gazillion) things one needs to learn to be a better leader.

In other words: what got you here won’t get you there. Success as a leader is a whole new paradigm that calls for new skills, mindset, and a whole bunch of learning. As I frequently share with many clients, your confidence will grow as your competence grows. But no need to wait. You’ve already got plenty to feel assured and confident about right now. You earned the role, you have skills, and most importantly, the ability to learn and grow. That last bit about your ability to learn and grow is part of your innate intelligence. It is there. Always there – ready for you to tap into it. So step away from the self-judging pit and see yourself and your new role with a different mindset. There are countless ways to grow yourself as a leader. For starters, here are a few thoughts.

8 Paths to Recalibrate Yourself as Leader for More Confidence and Success

#1 Recalibrate Your Expectations: You are likely used to getting things right. You’ve performed well as a contributor – and hey, that’s in part what earned you this promotion. Those bumps in the road feel very disconcerting. Time for a bit of a recalibration of your expectations for these early days. Expect this: You will be dealing with overload, lots of change, uncertainty, doubt. And you will have good days, tough days, and fabulous days. Along the way, you will grow, learn, accomplish great things. But you may also stumble sometimes too. It’s all part of the deal.

#2 Shift Your Focus:  A lot needs to change when stepping into a leadership role (or a bigger leadership role), notably, what you focus on and where you put your attention. From developing yourself technically, you’ll also need to develop yourself personally and interpersonally. From focusing on  your career growth, you will also need to attend to your people’s growth, needs, and aspirations. Sure, paying attention to ensure that the stuff that must get done, gets done — is important, yet there’s more to this: You need to shift from ‘directing’ the tasks and bring in more human leadership. This speaks to lots (how you relate, connect, and more). And largely, this is where the people part comes in. Oh the people….

#3 Oh the People! Focus on Your People: Most leaders struggle not because of their technical abilities, but rather, some gaps on the people leadership front.  Prioritize having conversations that cultivate trust, collaboration, team engagement – and yes, performance too.  While there’s lots to learn here, a commitment to developing your people development efficacy (vs. only directing the work) will make so much better and easier – for everyone.

#4 Embrace Not Having to Know All the Answers: No one holds exclusive rights to the wisdom in the room, especially the leader. Instead, your job is to access, cultivate, and leverage the wider wisdom in the room (your team, reports, peers). Everyone will be stronger when you tap into collective experience and wisdom.

#5 Forget Certainty. Get good at Working with Ambiguity and Change: Remember the days when life and work was certain? Me neither. Work has been fraught with change and complexity for years now. Get comfortable being a little (and sometimes a lot!) uncomfortable. Leading teams with some ‘fog ahead’ is the new normal.  Take responsible and calculated risks, share transparently as best you can so as to not add even further uncertainty, and be mindful in how you create a climate of trust and safety. Everyone needs to learn and grow with change so support your people in adapting, learning, and growing with you.

#6 Be Yourself: As I write this bit, I have the song “I’ve Gotta Be Me” strumming in my head by Sammy Davis Jr. But seriously, you do gotta be you! To connect meaningfully with your people, you’ve got to be real. No need to fake your way through things or wear a false persona.  Authenticity is the fancy word for being transparent, honest, and even a little vulnerable at times too. Share a little more about yourself personally (not just your working role). Fess up when you don’t yet know an answer. People will trust you more if they know what and who they see is real.

#7 Courageous: In your new role as leader, you will need to do a things you’ve never yet done. And you’ll also need to have a whole lot of conversations that may be a little uncomfortable. For instance to stand up and advocate for your people, and your ideas; and there will times that when you have to learn to say no; learn to share feedback. And more. Confidence and courage are good friends but they aren’t the exact same thing. Sometimes we don’t YET have confidence in a particular skill or way of being. When we stretch ourselves we might feel uncomfortable. This is where courage comes in. Everyone can muster up a bit of courage now and then. You’ve already done it a zillion times in your life. What will help in those moments is to remember the innate skill that you have — to learn.

#8 Be a Masterful Learner: If you accept that there will be lots you don’t yet know how to do, it will be helpful to remember that the word ‘yet’ is key. Learning to be an even better learner is a crucial part of learning to be a better leader. If you can learn then you will be able to lead. The better you get at learning, the better you will get at leading. Leadership is a long game. With time, effort, and intention, you will learn more than you realized you didn’t know.

Start with some personal reflection. What are your strengths, values – draw from those! And what are some gaps to level up on? Create some learning goals (even tiny ones will do). Then rinse and recycle repeatedly with new learning and goals.

Leadership is an ongoing learning journey. Be diligent and patient with yourself as you dive into your new role. Hopefully, with a recalibrated approach and mindset, you’ll experience less angst and more hope as you embrace the learning and leading road ahead.

Are you interested in how to Be a Better Leader? So much of my work evolves around the many ways one can level up – personally, interpersonally, and professionally. I teach courses, coach individuals, and write about various facets of what it means to be a better leader. Get in touch if you are interested in connecting on any of these.

Eileen Chadnick, PCC, of Big Cheese Coaching, is an ICF credentialed coach, a two-time ICF (International Coaching Federation) Prism award winner, who works with leaders (emerging to experienced), and organizations, on navigating, leading and flourishing in times of flux, opportunity and challenge. She is the author of Ease: Manage Overwhelm in Times of Crazy Busy.


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