It can be challenging for a new leader to build trust and loyalty when they working with a new team, or even harder yet, taking on a leadership role and applying certain principles within a team they previously did not have a defined leadership role within.
What makes it particularly challenging is that often, you will be faced with a suite of long-term targets set for you that your effectiveness will be measured upon. These targets may or may not truly reflect a true representation of your success as a leader.
Leadership credentials are established through sharing experiences with people. I do not mean that this is the verbal sharing of experiences. You know, the “I’ve done this and done that before.” Shared experiences are something you have gone through together. It can be things you have achieved together. It can be shared pain or struggles; but as a leader, the best way to build your leadership credibility is to go through something with someone. Lead the way through it and then pass on the accolades to your team or take more than your share of the blame if required.
To do this takes time.
A common mistake that new leaders make is that they set their team on a course that does not allow for the opportunity for their team to see their leadership skills in action. They wait too long to affirm their leadership because the entire team is only focused on a long-term target. What happens in between? We all work our backsides off and then either succeed or fail right at the end. What is our team’s thinking during this long period?
In terms of buying your leadership abilities, nothing matters more than the team that works for you. Your Manager can believe in your leadership but has a lot less influence on your ability to succeed or fail than your team. Conversely, a strong team that believes in your leadership makes it more difficult for your manager to negatively influence your results. All in all, your team believing in you is the most important part of your role.
To ensure that you can build your leadership credentials with your team, you need to be able to identify opportunities to turn one big experience (a.k.a achievement of a long-term target) into smaller experiences that you can share with your team. Whilst this can be achieved through the creation of milestones – in order to be a genuinely good leader – it is important that you can identify scenarios and situations that you can work on with your team.
For example, your long-term target may be the delivery of a specific project. A milestone may be the delivery of a particular project stage and depending on the type of project you are managing, this stage could be a long time in the making.
It is ideal to assess activities you and your team will be performing within stages (or related scenarios) and identify them as leadership building opportunities. This will allow you to celebrate the little wins instead of just the predictable project milestones. Celebration does not necessarily mean throwing a team lunch every other day; it is more a gesture of recognition and reflection on what you have worked on.
Let’s take a small example and work it through.
Your team is managing a project which has multiple milestones spread across a 12 month period. Waiting until the end of this project or the milestones is probably too long in terms of demonstrating your leadership skills. You need some small wins to help your team understand who you are and what you stand for. This project also has a somewhat prickly stakeholder who needs to approve a set of requirements early in the project lifecycle. This is a perfect opportunity for the new leader to build credibility.
The initial key points to consider as a new leader here are:
- Meet with the relevant team members who will be working with this stakeholder and constructively identify this stakeholder as requiring attention.
- Ensure that your team is aware that you understand the challenge with this stakeholder without appearing negative or destructive.
- Ask if your team requires any assistance. Regardless of the answer, ensure everyone is clear that support is available anytime but continue to express trust and confidence in their abilities.
It is here that you trust your team to begin the process of engagement (if that is what they are inclined to do). As part of your regular activities, monitor this situation.
If all goes well, you may simply need to sit down with your team at the end of the exercise and express gratitude for managing this complex piece of work. Continued gratitude and demonstration of understanding across many small tasks will build your leadership credentials over time.
However, if all does not go well and your team is struggling, again, offer assistance. I would coach against deliberately forcing yourself into the situation until absolutely necessary. When your team asks for help, you must step in with control and a supportive approach. Never begin understanding the problem with a critical assessment (or critical statements) of your own team. Understand the full situation before determining your next steps. Always make sure your team feels supported.
The key points to consider in terms of this situation are:
- Try and arm your team with the right approach and techniques so they can resolve the situation with the stakeholder first. Ensure this never appears as you trying to deflect responsibility.
- If your team needs you to step in and manage the situation with the stakeholder, do so but without bravado or selling out your team to reach a resolution.
- Keep your team involved or aware of what you are doing to reach a resolution.
However, when this is all resolved and the activity is completed, you must remember that your involvement in this as a leader is not the primary point to remember. In fact, it is pretty much irrelevant.
Side note: I once attended a meeting that reviewed achievements for a team spread across a year. The majority of the achievements documented for review were presented out of context and with a slant that placed the achievement itself as an outcome of the Manager presenting – not a result of the teams who delivered them. That particular Manager lost his entire team that day (without realising) and never won them back.
With the example situation above being resolved, it is now time for you to celebrate the small win with your team. A leader will present this back to the team as their achievement. A leader takes no credit, downplays his involvement, and builds his team with knowledge and confidence to replicate the approach next time.
Celebrations can be large or small. They can range from a large team gathering to publicly recognise someone to a small team meeting to reflect on the same. Depending on the situation, it may only need a knowing smile and nod of the head across a room – just so long as you and your team know that you have just celebrated a little win (or survived a challenging situation) together. That builds your leadership and the strength of your team that relies upon it.