Laying the Foundations for your First Leadership Role

What to expect (and overcome) when moving into Leadership.

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Your first one, ten, one hundred days in your first-ever leadership role will be a lot of things. They’ll be daunting, exciting, and challenging and trust me when I say you’ll learn a whole lot. 

Whether you’re new to a company or you’ve just been promoted to lead those who you’ve past seen as your ‘work buddies’, everything from your first conversation through to your next promotion will be under scrutiny.

Your highs, your lows, the way you handle your relationship management and responsibilities – the way you do everything will be lit up with a spotlight and it’s not uncommon to feel your excitement start to dim.

But let’s stop there and take a look at what you need to do, to be a successful first-time leader


Revisit the Day You Got The Job

You applied for a position in an employer’s market and patiently waited to hear what the future holds. Maybe it’s an internal move and you’re called into your boss’ office or it’s a new role at a new company and you see ‘the email’ slide into your inbox. In either case, you hold your breath and your heartbeat starts to increase…

Congratulations! We’re delighted to offer you the opportunity to join us in this role!’

.. and breathe! You were so excited and relieved. 

Remember that feeling. The feeling where you were animated and bouncing off the walls with joy, and confidence, all your new ideas and strengths you know you have because you sold the company on them. 

You are the one for the job. You’re now in leadership. Let that truth sink in.

It’s easy to skip past the moment where you tell yourself, “yes, I am the best for the job!” and instead get excited about the step in your career, the pay rise, the idea you may enjoy more flexibility… Whatever the benefits are, it’s easy to let them overshadow your own self-appreciation. 

So go back to that day and make sure you congratulate yourself and lay the foundations that you are going to be the best at this job, no matter what. 


Manage Your Expectations 

38% of individuals in new leadership roles fail within the first 18 months (GoRemotely) for many reasons. One of them is a lack of managing expectations when forward planning. 

When starting any new role it’s very common to feel the pressure and carry an air of ‘I need to prove myself now’. Which, honestly, is totally fine- we have all felt this at some point in our careers. 

If that’s what drives you, then go for it. But make sure you don’t over-commit because the chances are, that even if you somehow manage to meet a crazy goal, it’s at the detriment of something else. 

Something has got to give. Whether it’s your own mental health, the well-being of your team, a missed opportunity to support a struggling team member, or you just dropped the ball somewhere, it’ll be there. 

So make sure that when you get into the driver’s seat you put your seat belt and navigation on first, before pressing your foot on the accelerator.

Not sure what I’m saying here? Let’s take a look at it like a glass of water.

    • Take a 500ml empty glass.
    • Pour in 100 ml of water to account for the old job that you still need to do. Remember to factor in time for those accounts you still manage, or your ‘membership’ on the Party Planning Committee. 
    • Add 250 ml water for the time spent managing your new team. Setting them up for success, helping them through their issues, upward managing to not overflow their plate, carrying out their 1:1’s mentoring, and all the rest.

You’re at 350 ml already.

    • Then add in 100 ml for all the reporting you now need to do. The data to dive into, and the presentations you need to design and deliver.
    • Another 100 ml for your ‘priority’ new idea that revamps your team’s deliverables and “will only take 20% of my time”. It’ll probably need more than that. 
    • Let’s add 50ml extra for the support you’ll offer other teams and colleagues to help establish yourself as a leader.
    • And finally, let’s add another 100ml for learning time. Time for you to onboard, reflect, learn, correct mistakes and drive towards success. 

Now if you’ve been keeping track, you’ve poured 700 ml into your 500 ml glass. You haven’t got enough space and there’s water everywhere. 

Long story short… Make sure that when you’re transitioning into a new role you need to know your limits, you are managing your expectations, fully onboarding, doing all of your learning and easing into your big projects. Starting everything at the same time is a leading contributor to that 38% failure statistic I shared above. 

So start things off the right way.


Take life Hour-by-Hour

You’ll have heard of the phrase ‘day-by-day’ before. But why even take it that fast? 

Forbes magazine puts it greatly… “Don’t let your leadership position swallow you whole”. If you take a step back, you’ll gain greater visibility on what needs to be done to meet the goals of one project and you can spend the next hour working on it. Then an hour later, look back again and ask yourself, ‘Is there a fire?’… ‘What needs my attention?’… ‘Has the business need changed?’.

Chances are, you’ll achieve way more by thinking you’re achieving way less. Don’t overwhelm yourself with every single thing you need to achieve in your new role and instead work on what needs to be done.


Moving into Auto-Pilot

When you’re at the stage where you’re relaxing into your new leadership role, seeing where there’s some stretch in your new pants and finding some stability you’ll start to move into auto-pilot. 

It’s the time when it’s all making sense. But how do you keep it that way.

To make sure you don’t fully fall into auto-pilot and start to miss tricks, there are a couple of leading indicators to help keep you on track. 

    1. Treat your team with respect. Prepare for and execute successful 1:1s with each individual. Support their growth, get to know them and strengthen your knowledge of how one another works. Lead, Coach and Win!
    2. Request, and offer feedback. Ask for feedback from your superiors on your performance and find areas for your own improvement. Then offer the same to your colleagues and team too. You can all grow together!
    3. Approach your difficult conversations with a four-step framework
    4. Become more data-driven than you’ve ever been before. Look at the trends before your team saw changes. Monitor the impact of changes you’ve made (and accept if you’ve made a decision that you ought to reverse). 
    5. Design and follow a Personal Development Plan (PDP) for yourself and your team. Discuss and gain clear direction and visibility on what the independent goals are. What are you expected to work towards; Then use this to help frame and guide your team on what their career goals could be. 
    6. Remain open-minded. Now, this is easier said than done. Your team – particularly if they’re early career – are highly unlikely to spend their entire career at your company. Accept and acknowledge that you’re working with them to drive their career forward, whether it’s at company X or not. Make this known, and I guarantee you your team will become more fond and trusting of you day by day.


Secure Clear Goals

Once you’ve reinstated your confidence in your own ability to do the job, devised a steady transition and ‘green light’ plan with managed expectations, knuckled down on hourly priorities and set up your calendar to meet all of the minimum needs of leading a team, you should look toward your team goals. 

If you’re in a revenue leadership role – particularly in SaaS – you know the terms OKRs and KPIs get thrown around a lot. And in an industry that has seen as much change as software has between 2020 and 2022, you know they’ll likely keep changing. 

The goalposts get moved. Another phase I’m sure we all know well. 

So how do you manage this when you’ve got your team to protect too?

Short answer; You keep this in mind throughout every stage you’ve done already but are not actively committed to anything. 

Why? Because by staying aware of goals X,Y and Z, you know what your team would’ve been expected to achieve before you became their management. Then when you’re settled, you know the ins and outs of how everything is going, you know what you can expect from the work your team produces and you know, the, data. You know the data. Then, and only then, are you in a qualified, reliable and reasonable position to make changes to your broader team goals. 

It’s the opportunity to run through change management with strength and information to back you up. Meaning you can then set individual goals for your team, that funnel up into the wider team goal that ultimately, is what your headshot gets pinned to. 

If you work to secure full team goals before you know what you’re doing, you’re more likely to fail. Sometimes this takes a month, sometimes it takes a quarter. If it takes a quarter, it takes a quarter. Articulate to your manager why you’re deciding to wait and I’m confident most leaders would appreciate your attention to detail and ability to learn and look toward sourcing reliable data. 


Getting Going in Leadership

Another one that’s easier said than done, right? Yes, I know that, don’t worry. 

Getting going and putting your foot on the accelerator when you’ve spent the time on all of the activities that you’ve read so far, can come with a little hesitancy and fear. It’s understandable and it is completely natural. 

You’re in a new role. You’re in your first leadership role. You’ve spent time making decisions (which costs money) and you’ve made strong arguments for why the decisions you’re making ‘will work’. 

On the one hand, you’ve got one bird in your ear saying ‘exactly, you’ve done all that so just get on with it’. Then in the other, ‘exactly, so what if it goes wrong now? You’re going to be in so much trouble!’.

Hearing the latter? Ignore it. 

You have done the research, you’ve set your team up for success, you know the relationships and priorities of the business, AND if you’re still unsure, go back to point 1. You’re still the best person for the job, so try not to overthink and talk yourself out of it. 

You’re prepared and ready to succeed and we can’t wait to see it. But, if you’re interested in getting some more comprehensive support from Leadership experts and authors, you’re in the right place. Foundations of Great Leadership with Keri Keeling and Nils Vinje is next running on January 10, 2023. Not a member? We can help here too!