Perhaps you have been looking forward to this day for a long time. As a learning professional, you have most certainly helped, encouraged, trained, and coached others to get their promotions and advance their careers. You have celebrated, high-fived, and encouraged them. Now it's your turn.
You've made the transition. You are now the team leader, supervisor, or manager - whatever title your organization gives you. Congratulations! Be excited about the opportunity to lead. Chances are, once the excitement of the announcement wears off, some questions and concerns - and maybe even some self doubt - will arise.
You want the chance to make a difference but wonder how to handle the others on the team who also applied for the job. You are excited that the promotion recognizes you for your contributions. But you worry about how people who have been around longer than you will react to you as their new boss. You are pumped up for the challenge, but uncertain how to begin to take it on.
The truth is that a transition through which you will be leading a team of peers and friends - especially when you are moving into your first leadership role - is probably the most difficult leadership transition of all.
But I'm a learning professional!
Many people assume that because you are a learning professional, you understand this "people and leadership stuff." After all, you may teach it or coach others. Because of these real or perceived expectations, you may put even more pressure on yourself (as if there aren't already enough sources of pressure during this transition).
You may be a fabulous trainer, and you may have helped many other leaders to be more successful in the classroom, over the phone, or over a cup of coffee, but that doesn't make you an expert in doing those things yourself. After all, there is a big difference between knowledge and application.
The fact that you may have read a number of books or are perceived as a leadership expert doesn't make you one. But it is a tremendous advantage. Many people don't have nearly the knowledge base that you do when they become new leaders. Keep this fact in mind, not to become smug or overly confident, but to remind yourself that you can succeed!
The five groups and five conversations
It is critical that you talk to the following people or groups as early as possible in your new role. The suggested conversation points below may not be complete. Given your unique situation, there may be other matters to discuss. Do all of these topics have to take place during one conversation? Not necessarily, but when you can discuss many of them together in the context of your transition, you will likely have more success. Rather than engaging in a one-time, check-it-off-the-list conversation, you will benefit most from using these topics for ongoing discussion and clarification with the following people in your workplace.
Your new leader. It is always important to have a conversation with your new boss, and this is never more important than when you've first joined the supervisory ranks.
Ask your supervisor what his expectations are for your position. The job description never really describes a job, does it? It is important to understand how your boss views your role and what he requires from you. You should share your expectations of him, too. The clearer the expectations are, the better your relationship will be and the easier it will be for you to know what success in your new job looks like.
Discover what role your leader will fulfill: Does he see himself as your coach or mentor? What support will he provide you, and what kind of support do you desire? Finally, determine how often, in what ways, and about what you will communicate.
Your team. There are various reasons for conversations with your new team: You are new, your team already knows you, you aren't the last person to lead them, or your roles have changed. Talk about your team's expectations of you, and your expectations for them. Ask them first if you want their true thoughts.
Acknowledge that the organization is different, that you aren't the same person as the old leader, and that you will be growing into your new role. Be genuine about your desire for your team members' feedback and support.
Have an open dialogue with your colleagues about their concerns, and come to terms with how your relationships will necessarily be altered by the new working arrangements. For the same issues and reasons you have this conversation with your boss, you should also have it with your team.
Your friends. This is perhaps the toughest group, and the people who will likely resist the conversation most, saying things like, "We can talk about this later." Know that later likely won't come until there is a problem, a conflict, or an issue. Open up the dialogue about their concerns; about what work topics are appropriate in the future; and about boundaries in communication, expectations, and so forth. Be open and honest about the changes - including your concerns and fears. And don't let these conversations get delayed; the sooner you start them, the better off each of you will be.
Your new peer group. Although you may have known these colleagues before your role changed, your relationships with them are still susceptible to change. Some of your peers might now become your mentors. Some might be able to understand the technical aspects of your new role. And your perspective will be valuable to them, too. Start building these relationships through one-on-one and group conversations.
Your former boss. If your former boss remains in the organization, your relationship with her will also change. Perhaps you are now peers, perhaps you are in a new department, or perhaps you were both promoted and you still work for her. Based on the advice above and your specific relationship, make time for this conversation, too.
The most important conversation
There is one more conversation you must have - the one with yourself. You need to talk to yourself about your new role, your expectations, and the tasks that you know you must complete. You must also build a conscious plan to learn the skills and habits that will make you a more successful leader.
Starting these conversations sooner rather than later will aid you greatly in your successful transition to your new leadership role. Schedule those conversations today and know that you are on the path to being a more confident and competent leader.