Everyone has times in their life when boundaries are redrawn. Sometimes this is self-instigated; other times, it’s thrust upon you.
‘Premature leader’ is an apt way to describe this. For me, this occurred when our business faced a tragic event. I started running Bamboo overnight before eventually buying the company.
I quickly learned that managing a team is one thing; leading a team, growing a business, and becoming an employer are entirely different.
Firstly, let’s be clear – you must be kind to yourself and know it’s a natural feeling:
- Uncertain – i.e., questioning whether you have the skills to do a brilliant job
- Scared – worrying about making mistakes is normal
- Stressed – new pressures and responsibilities can build up if you’re not careful
- Exposed – people will be judging whether you have what it takes, and you can’t control that
- Alone – previous relationships are often completely rewired
Adjusting to leadership is difficult, and there will be tough days. You’ll make mistakes. Things will go wrong. Existential crises come thick and fast.
The first step must be acceptance. That’s accepting what’s changed, the new status quo and the responsibility on your shoulders. You might not like what’s changed, but that’s part of this reset.
‘Role model’ is a term often used in business, and this is my most significant learning. Whether you want to be a role model or think you are worthy of that title, becoming a leader makes you one.
Your previous peers will look to you for direction, decisions, coaching, support, and everything in between. They will mirror your behaviour. You can’t expect someone to adjust to your newfound leadership if you’re unwilling to own your behaviour.
Seriousness vs self
Leadership can be lonely, and seeing your authentic self shrink in prominence is common. This is temporary, however.
One of the challenges I experienced was understanding that I was still one of the team but in a different way. Power balances are complex in every company, and I had to retire certain versions of myself. At the same time, I found it invigorating that a new version of me could emerge.
In the early days, this manifested as extreme formality and a highly structured approach to empowering people. However, slowly, over time, this imbalance eased. I learned I could still be myself and being robotic helped no one.
You can still have a sense of humour. You can be vulnerable. You can tell people how things make you feel. Treat everyone with compassion, empathy, and respect as humans – that’s the goal.
What leader do you need me to be?
Your next goal is to seek guidance on the type of leader your team needs. This can be many things and include:
- An empathetic champion supporting people through the highs and lows of life
- An energetic, positive person that can make the impossible achievable
- An authoritarian that’s tough but fair
- A long-term planner taking people on an exciting journey
- A reflective thinker who considers all the eventualities
- A protector who stands up for what’s right, no matter how difficult the challenge
- A delegator who empowers people through autonomy, trust and ownership
- A relationship builder who connects others
Once you have a clear picture of a desired leadership style, it’s imperative that you outline with absolute clarity what your new role entails.
Explain your goals, responsibilities, and a detailed job description. Even more important is what you are no longer going to do.
Repeat regularly what other people have taken over from you, so this bakes into their roles. Say no regularly, resist the urge to interfere and seek regular feedback to spot any emerging issues.
Being strong is tough
Bullies. No one likes them. There are plenty out there, whether that’s an unexpected threat to your team from a rival or someone trying to push your teammates around.
Being a leader means pushing back, standing up to threats, facing down bullies, exerting authority, embedding strength so tough decisions are taken from a position of strength, and facing your fears.
Imposter syndrome often flares up when you become a leader, as it can feel challenging to act with strength if you suddenly feel unsure of yourself. Lean into the discomfort. That’s where personal growth comes from.
My best advice is to accept the help offered – plenty of people will want to assist you – and don’t suffer in silence. Seek joy outside of work. Becoming a leader after once being a peer is draining and takes lots of energy. So, make sure you recharge, rest and are kind to yourself.
Understand where you’re going
“What’s the plan?” will be a question you’ll encounter repeatedly.
“I have no idea” is an entirely acceptable answer in the early days. Long-term visioning can take months, years, or even longer.
However long this soul-searching takes, whether it’s a team’s purpose, a company’s vision or a colleague’s development plan, keep people informed. Be transparent, overcommunicate and reemphasise where you’re heading, even if progress is slow or you hit roadblocks.
This pathway can link deeply to personal goals for business owners. I always think it’s important to acknowledge that with your team.
When working on a strategic initiative, we reached a significant milestone. My colleague rightfully pushed back at me saying, “This is your decision, it’s your business, and you need to be comfortable with what’s happening.”
That’s when you know you’ve completed your move from peer to leader – when people see you in that role, support you, and want you to excel.
Change is never easy, and as a company that’s experienced its fair share over 21 years, especially the 14 years I’ve been at Bamboo, I am always happy to share advice. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on LinkedIn.