Most leaders end up in their initial leadership roles because they are excellent individual contributors. However, moving from an individual contributor to a leader requires fundamental mindset shifts. One of the most significant shifts for new leaders is the transition from being a doer to being a leader—from being someone who performs tasks that other people assign to being the person who gives tasks and manages people. Here are four ways to help you transition:
1. Teach Your Team
There are two kinds of teaching you can do as a leader. First, you will likely need to shift some of your responsibilities to members of your team, and there may be some level of teaching involved in transferring those tasks. Teach the essential pieces of the job, but leave the details up to your team member, and remain open to additional questions as they arise.
Second, you can empower your team by teaching them how to assess and think like problem solvers and innovators. As a doer, you probably distinguished yourself because you were different from the crowd of doers. Perhaps you were more efficient or engaged in innovative thinking that improved processes. What made your way of thinking different from other individual contributors? Encourage your team to think in similar ways.
Delegating can be one of the hardest things to learn and practice as a new manager. You likely have a mindset that says it’s just as easy to do tasks yourself as to delegate them, and you may believe that, as a high performer, you can accomplish your leadership tasks in addition to those tasks you had as an individual contributor. You may even struggle to believe that your team members can perform those tasks as well as you can.
Take a step back and think about what your new role requires of you. Tasks directly related to your role as a manager should be first on your list, and beyond those, you should be concerned with growing into other leadership competencies that will help you meet long-term career goals.
As you look at your list, start to delegate tasks that don’t fall directly under your new job description. What can you delegate to team members? Remember, delegating isn’t just about managing your workload. It’s also an important way to help your direct reports develop their skills.
3. Set the Agenda
When you were an individual contributor, you received assignments from your boss or those around you, and you focused on completing those assignments with excellence. But working on an individual assignment doesn’t always give you insight into why it is important, how it relates to an overall strategy, or what value it brings to the organization. Even if you did have that insight, your responsibility was simply for one item on a broad agenda.
As a leader, your job is to set that overall agenda and assign the pieces to your team. You need to move from having hyperfocus on one task to looking at the big picture and ranking your team’s priorities. You also now have responsibility for making a case for your team’s activities to your boss or senior leadership, which means that you need to focus less on doing agenda items and more on navigating the organization to improve your team’s chance of success.
4.Think Out Loud
As a doer, you were likely very good at processing ideas internally and coming up with unique solutions to challenges. While this skill is invaluable for an individual contributor, it may limit you as a leader.
When challenges and obstacles arise, start thinking out loud to your team members, and open the floor for discussion, ideas, and innovations. Give your team a wide berth to think through solutions, and encourage them to pursue good ideas.
This kind of thinking will help you in two ways. First, you will empower your team and allow them to produce results and distinguish themselves. Second—and perhaps more important—you will start to create a high-performing team that has a strong sense of purpose.
Transitioning from being a doer to being a leader is a significant mindset shift that may not happen overnight. Be patient with your progress, and look to other leaders and mentors to assess how they manage their teams. With time, your team will be more productive than ever, and you will be on the way to becoming a superstar manager.
- What is one task that I’m struggling to delegate? Why?
- Who is one leader in the company who has successfully transitioned from doer to leader?
- What is one lesson I can learn from that leader?