Empowering Yourself as a First-Time Leader

My first job out of school was not in a leadership position, but through observing, it was a pretty good orientation for first-time leaders.  I watched many people doing a lot right, but I also saw people being asked to speak and behave outside their comfort zone; I watched many without support.  When I took my first leadership role and became a CEO, I built these lessons into my approach.


Here are nine ways I learned to empower myself as a developing leader:


  1. Understand that everyone has a role to play

Despite the bad examples of leadership, one really good quality that leaders in my first job demonstrated was how they viewed individual contributors.  They understood that, while not everyone was going to necessarily be a manager, leader or change agent, the value of each contributor was still sound.  If someone decides, “Staying at this level is my path, and I want to stick to it,” working for a company that recognizes that will result in a better experience for everyone.


  1. Never work for an insecure person

Insecurity permeates everything—for leaders, it infiltrates their decisions and impacts the ability of others to work for them.  This was one of the biggest lessons my first job taught me.  A little bit later in my career there, leadership awarded me a title not beyond my competency but probably beyond my experience.  I ended up managing people who were 20 or 30 years older than I was.  Fortunately, they were confident and secure in their jobs, so, despite my age, they accepted my leadership.  If they weren’t, I might have suffered my insecurities and had a harder time being their leader.


  1. Look for support

Seek out a supportive environment and culture where you can make mistakes.  My first time with success in a leadership position was when I worked for someone who truly had my back.  He watched over me and stayed aware of my decisions, giving me a lot of rope but never enough to let me hang myself.


  1. Seek out fun

Rather than the career offering the most money, first-time leaders should follow their natural gravitation toward fun.  A leader needs the skill sets that make others want to buy into their ideas and follow their direction.  To be successful in leadership, we need to enjoy leading and feel gratification at someone choosing to follow us.  That energy from our enjoyment and buying into what we offer as leaders is what people follow.  Unless we can have fun leading others, we can never succeed.


  1. Management builds leadership

Sometimes, our path to leadership includes enabling others to be good leaders as managers. This means getting our hands dirty and being willing to do the grunt work that comes with straight managing.  Never surprise your boss—even well-intended surprises can undermine them—but help them look good.  Groom yourself to take that step up into leadership by helping your leaders demonstrate the best of their abilities.


  1. Do up rather than out

First-time leaders who want to prove themselves by taking on more than their share should remember to work vertically rather than horizontally.  It can be easy when we see work not getting done to step in and cover for our peers. I went through it.  Instead, we should do the work that will get rewarded by working up, not out, and doing it well.


  1. Nurture partnerships

I have family members who are military officers who rely on their wives to take care of the rest of the family, especially during deployment.  Business partnerships are not the same as marriage, but being a leader often means turning to partners within the organization for support.  Partners in HR, for example, can help support interactions with direct reports and their families.  Leaders should nurture opportunities to create strong partnerships across the company from different divisions for a variety of support.


  1. Remember your scope of responsibility

In military leadership, one person responsible for four soldiers may report to someone in charge of 30 soldiers, who then reports to someone overseeing 500 soldiers.  That person at the top sees their responsibility as taking care of 500 families.  As a leader of a company, I often think down through the channels of leadership about the families who are part of my scope of influence.  As we move through our leadership journey, never forget the responsibility for that pyramid of resources.


  1. Leadership is earned, not given

It takes more than someone else giving us a title to make us a leader.  We have to earn that title, both vertically and horizontally.  With buy-in up the chain from our leaders and across from our peers, we have an easier time convincing direct reports underneath us to buy into our leadership. S ome may see it sooner, but rather than expecting others to take our ability to lead for granted, we can work on demonstrating it.


Taking on a position of leadership can be frightening.  Those who will succeed as leaders are willing to accept that challenge because of the personal gratification they receive from serving in that position.  Step up and step forward to earn and nurture the personal gratification from leadership, and the outside gratification will follow.


I Power Seeds

Here are our takeaways and thoughts - pause and reflect, then nourish and grow!

One of the most important aspects of a good leader is having self confidence.  There are several blog posts regarding the benefits of self-confidence.  Here is one – READ IT.  Doing it alone is also very hard and as the article highlights, surround yourself with people who have your back (even when you are not in the room).  The last point I want to highlight is “fun” and showing your team you recognize their efforts and their wins. 


One memorable thing I did for my team was I just picked a Friday and rented a Slupree machine in the middle of the summer – they loved it!  It went around the company like wild fire and every other department came by to get a Slurpee and ask why we were doing it.  A small effort had such a big impact for not only my department, but within the company.

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