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The arrival of the unprepared: Your first leadership job


Rarely does anyone step into a new leadership role knowing everything they need to be successful. People naturally celebrate this change (I got this, how hard can it be?) but too often ignore the challenge of the transition (you’re unlikely to be aware of what you don’t know!). To significantly increase the chances for success, here are a few considerations when making that first step into leadership.  

Leadership is a choice

Considering a leadership position is about making the right career choice. A step up to a leadership position may not be the right decision for many. A new book by leadership experts DDI—Your First Leadership Jobexplores how individuals pressured into taking a leadership role were three times more likely to be dissatisfied and twice as likely to consider quitting than those who voluntarily sought the position.

Great leadership takes place every day, in the smallest of ways. Leadership is such a fundamental part of our society. Whatever domain of life we choose to engage with, leadership profoundly impacts our experience. A small shift in leadership capability will have a deep impact on the lives of so many people; those who lead and those who choose to follow.

But leadership comes with responsibility. And if you are not prepared to embrace that responsibility and consciously focus on acquiring the skills of leadership then the risks and implications can be profound.

Managing Transitions

Making the transition to a leader is possible and achievable for anyone willing to try new behaviours and adjust their mindset. In a very practical sense, the top challenges new leaders face include learning to lead former peers, being prepared to let go of accountabilities and delegate to others, recognising that your success is no longer just based on your own performance. 

First time or frontline leaders are often the most visible level of leadership to employees who do the value-producing work of the organisation. They also have a direct line to the customer and therefore are a critical face of the organisation. For these reasons another key challenge new leader’s face is how to translate the strategy of the business to employees for the benefit of the customer. Their behaviour, decisions and actions essentially determine whether the grand strategies of your organisation succeed or fail.

Being prepared for this transition is possible. Assess your leadership mindset and consider your strengths and motivations going into this leadership position. Really ask yourself, “what is my organisation asking me to do?”, in other words, does your understanding of your role align with the organisations expectations?  You should revisit these often as your new career as a leader progresses.

The catalyst Leader

The one thing that leaders need is followers; therefore your ability to catalyse and ignite passion, energy and commitment in others is fundamental to your success as a leader. This is not about charisma, this is about doing the simple things that engage your team, demonstrate empathy and guide your team in the right direction. Doing the small things, and doing them well, is what it means to be a catalyst leader.

Great Leadership is Built One Conversation at a Time

More than half of a new leader’s day is spent in conversations. They may be communicating a change, gathering data or collaborating to solve a problem. The best conversations help colleagues feel understood, valued, trusted and motivated. A good conversation addresses two essential ingredients. People come to work with both practical needs (to get work done) and personal needs (to be respected and valued). Addressing these as you need to, and in some cases in combination throughout a conversation promotes the best outcomes—results, action, engagement, motivation and ownership.  Developing these interaction skills early in your leadership journey will set the foundation for success.

About the author:

This article was written by Mark Busine, Managing Director, DDI at Development Dimensions International, a global human resources consulting firm. Click for Bio and LinkedIn Profile.