How to make it as a leader

Published: 23 July 2019 By David Brendel

How to make it as a leader

Harvard Business Review on learning to let go of old ways of thinking

 

Careful self-reflection about your values, mission and legacy can bring the mental clarity and behaviour changes you need for success in management roles. Photograph:  Peter Mueller/Reuters

Careful self-reflection about your values, mission and legacy can bring the mental clarity and behaviour changes you need for success in management roles. Photograph: Peter Mueller/Reuters

 

When individual contributors are tapped to manage large-scale projects, oversee other workers or participate in strategic planning, they need to develop new skillsets on the fly – skills such as interpersonal dexterity, emotional agility and communication savvy.

As important as these leadership skills are, just as important to the leadership transition is learning to let go of old ways of thinking, in other words, relaxing into the role.

This transition can be stressful, but a structured and evidence-based process can help new managers both acquire new skills and let go of old habits. Here’s the process I use in my executive coaching practice:

– Mindset shifts: A successful leadership transition depends on substantial cognitive restructuring. Many newly appointed managers, as they assume unfamiliar roles, cling to a belief system that emphasises “hard skills” and a “nose to the grindstone” mentality.

But this mindset can constitute a set of limiting beliefs for a manager whose “soft skills” will actually determine whether he or she thrives. Effective managers rigorously cultivate positive thoughts about leadership and eventually relax into their roles without self-doubt. This positive mindset is an essential starting point.

– Mindfulness skills: Mindset and mindfulness go hand in hand. When managers choose to believe that they must develop leadership capacity and avoid overuse of their technical skills, they can embark on the hard work of staying calm and poised in unfamiliar situations. Evidence-based mindfulness strategies, such as meditation and controlled breathing, can empower new managers to navigate challenges including delivering a critical presentation, running a contentious meeting or making a high-stakes strategic decision.

– Medical wellness: Managers can build a leadership mindset and mindfulness skills only if their brains are functioning well. Sound sleep, regular exercise, good nutrition and other healthy behaviours are essential.

When navigating a stressful transition to a new management role, self-care is essential. If you’ve been thinking that it’s time for your annual checkup or considering contacting a therapist, don’t keep putting it off. Taking care of your physical and mental health can provide a foundation for optimal performance in managerial roles.

– Meaning structures: A manager must also consider the meaning and purpose of their work. What is motivating you to transition from individual contributor to management? You need a clear vision of why you are stretching to develop a new mindset and skill set in the middle of an already established and successful career.

Careful self-reflection about your values, mission and legacy can bring the mental clarity and behaviour changes you need for success in management roles.

Taking on a leadership position for the first time might be one of the most stressful moments in your career. It’s often the moment when many stars in the organisation fail for the first time. By taking the time to reflect on the four critical areas above, you will be better equipped to make a successful transition. – Copyright Harvard Business Review 2016

David Brendel is an executive coach, leadership development specialist and psychiatrist based in Boston

Previously published in The Irish Times.

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