When I entered the Navy as a 26 year old Ensign many years ago, I thought I knew how to lead. I was college educated, had a few years of life experience under my belt and had just finished at the top of my class at Aviation Officer Candidate School. I was ready for anything – well, except for maybe reality. I remember my first month in the squadron as a blur. A lot of new faces, a lot of new opportunities to excel, and a lot of opportunities to screw up. Here are my Top Five Tips for the brand new leader.
- Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously. Just because you now have a title behind your name, doesn’t mean you’re any smarter than you were the day before you got it. In fact, you just went from the top of the class, to the bottom. If anything, you shouldn’t be going around strutting your stuff, you should be humbly trying to figure out how to lead.
- Title Does Not Equal Better. A leader understands that everyone has value. The CEO may make more money, but he/she can’t do the job without everyone else at the company. Treat everyone with respect. You can learn something from everyone at your company. As an Ensign, I soon learned that there were people who I outranked, who knew a lot more than I did. These men and women are the Senior Enlisted members of the Navy and hold the rank of Chief. Chiefs get things done in the Navy, despite the best efforts of young Ensigns to hold them back.
- Unlearn Everything You Know. This is a HUGE area where most new leaders fail. In your new role, you cannot do the things you did before and be a successful leader. I’ve worked with mid-level managers trying to break through to the executive level and many of them think managing lists is going to help them excel. Wrong. Senior Managers are concerned about the BIG picture. As you move into a new leadership role, find out what your boss is expecting of you, and start trying to deliver. Do Not… Do Not… DO NOT, assume that you should keep doing the things you did before.
- Work On Your Soft Skills. As a leader, you are going to have to do things you weren’t trained for. Here are just a few of them: Counseling, Conflict Resolution, Speaking, Writing, Facilitating, Negotiating, Appraising, Rewarding, Planning, Vision Casting, Team Building… and the list goes on. If you want to excel as a leader, you’re going to have to learn how to do these things well. Trust me on this, most new leaders fail miserably at these things because they think a title gives them the knowledge to do them. It is not the title, but the willingness to learn, that makes someone a good leader. Go get educated on how to lead.
- Become A Servant Leader. I know this has a churchy ring to it. But this is the BEST piece of advice I can give you. It is easy to bark orders – especially ones that don’t make sense. As a mission commander, I had a rule on our crew of 12. After the mission, everyone, including the officers, stuck around until the very last thing was done. We all helped clean up the aircraft after we landed. I once had a visiting Lieutenant who went to the crew van and put his feet up on the dashboard while the rest of us worked. He thought he was above some easy manual labor. He didn’t do well in the Navy. A great leader, serves others. Others include… well… everyone. Your organization, your boss, your peers, your team, other teams, your client, your customers, your family and yes… yourself. Learn… how to serve.
All the best!
All the time!
- We Need People Who Can Lead Regardless Of Their Title (leadchangegroup.com)
- So What is it That Makes a Leader Great? (hrblueprints.wordpress.com)
- Authentic Leadership: Would You Follow You? (leadchangegroup.com)