First-Time Leader

When you become a leader for the first time and get responsibility for employees, then suddenly a lot changes in your professional life. Until yesterday you were a specialist, as of today, also formally, you are a leader.

I remember the moment when I was promoted into my first leadership role. Until yesterday I was Junior Brand Manager with 20 colleagues in an open-space office and a great boss as a safety net. As of today I am Brand Manager with responsibility for 2 national brands, 6 employees and € 280 million turnover. I felt proud because I made that step. And I felt insecure because I did not really know what was ahead and how it all worked.

Was this experience similar to you when got promoted to be a first-time leader? What did you feel when you became a leader the first time? Or do you have this wonderful career step just ahead of you? I was fortunate enough to work in a company where I was allowed to learn. In my first year as Lead Wolf we were successful. Our sales grew faster than the market, our brand strength increased, and my employees performed and developed very well. I apparently did a lot of things right, but I also made some major mistakes. And that\’s a good thing, because then you grow.

How do you do that now, lead for the first time? Here are my 5 best tips for you:

1. Change perspective from functional expert to leader

The big day has come. For the first time, you are officially the boss, for the first time you are the leader of the pack for your team. Today, you should quickly make a very important transition and change of perspective – from functional expert to leader. We all started our professional careers as functional experts, in accounting, in sales, or in logistics. As a specialist, we have worked almost exclusively on the matter itself, e.g. in the process or in the context of a project. We added value by working on functional topics. We managed projects, carried out analysis, managed budgets or prepared presentations.
As of today everything is suddenly a bit different. Now that have your own staff, you add the vast majority of your value and performance by leading others. You are no longer working on the thing itself, but first and foremost you help others to work on the cause and to succeed. You work with humans. Please be aware of this important step, and be aware of this important change of perspective in your career. Only if your employees are successful, you can be successful. So, help your employees succeed and treat them the way they should treat your best customers.
And there is another important change of perspective for you to consider as a first-time leader. As a Lead Wolf, you should not only work in the system, but much more on the system. You should look and find ways how you can change the processes and workflows, and how these changes can help your employees reach their goals, even better, faster, or cheaper. This is working on the system, and you as leader of the pack should initiate this optimisation.

So tip # 1: Change perspective from functional expert to leader.

2. Lead yourself and lead your boss

In retrospect, my second mistake as a young leader was that I thought I was first and foremost leading my team. Not correct. What is your view? Who is the most important person you lead? I think the most important person you lead is you yourself, because only if you are very clear to yourself, what you want and how you will achieve it, only then you can lead others to success.
The second most important person you lead is your boss. The relationship with your boss is very important, so take care of it. Clarify mutual expectations, ask your boss occasionally for feedback, for his satisfaction with your performance, ask good questions and make your own suggestions, which can go beyond your actual area of ​​responsibility. Because if the axis to the direct supervisor works well, if you pursue the same goals, if you support each other without surprise, if you deliver what your boss needs from you, then it is so much easier to lead your team.
Lead yourself, clarify your goals, your priorities, your expectations to your boss and to your employees. And lead your boss so that the two of you are as aligned as a dream team.

So tip # 2: Lead yourself and lead your boss.

3. Delegate a lot and precisely – control, acknowledge, motivate

For me, one of the most difficult changes as a first-time leader was the question “How much and what do I delegate?” Most executives, and at first me, too, delegate too little. We usually ask ourselves the wrong question, i.e.: “What can I delegate?” That often leads us to delegate a certain amount but we tend to keep quite some work on our own plate, e.g. because we are afraid of overburdening the team or because we prefer to do this work ourselves, because we like it so much.
The right question when delegating is not “what can I delegate” but assuming that I delegate everything a much better question is, “what are the very few things that I must do myself?”
Three simple rules of thumb: 1. Do everything yourself that takes less than a minute. Delegate everything else. 2. Always delegate a little bit more than your people believe they can manage. Then it is about right. Good people grow because good people can do more than they themselves realize. Always go a little bit beyond the comfort zone. If you have a high level of confidence that the employee will deliver, even if the employee himself has a little doubt, but wants to prove it, wants to do it, then he can and will deliver. Then you have delegated a good amount of responsibility. And 3. Clarify roles and responsibilities.
When delegating, do not delegate vague topics but clearly define precise goals. Then clearly delegate responsibility for results. Suggest a clear goal, then shut up and ask questions about how your employee wants to achieve these goals. And keep track of it at the right time and check whether your employees have reached their goal or if something else is missing and how they will close the gap themselves.
And if the results are good, let your employees feel your appreciation for their performance personally and clearly. Let them feel that you appreciate their work and their performance. This motivates every human being and gives strength, confidence, energy and fun at work.

So tip # 3: Delegate a lot and precisely – control, acknowledge, motivate

4. Do not stare – let go

My biggest mistake as a young leader was the “good hen”. In the beginning, while delegating responsibility to my staff, I somewhat sat on top of my young chicken to protect them, to keep them nice and warm, to avoid mistakes, to help them. Certainly well intended, but some of my behavior was overdone and just too much. I did not let go enough, out of fear, habit and lack of trust. As a first-time leader, it’s better to delegate responsibility from the start and let go. Checking and controlling occasionally yes, but do not restrict or micro-manage. You have to learn to quickly create a good balance between being there and being away, between control and freedom. You should lead, without holding on and let go without leaving your people alone.

So tip # 4: Do not stare – let go

5. Make your people look good

A good Lead Wolf takes care of his employees in case of problems. And when the sun is shining and the team is successful, she or he stands behind the team and makes them look good. You can do that, for example by delegating tasks to your employees that are important to the company, that they enjoy doing, that they are doing for the first time, mastering, learning from, and growing from. If your people succeed then make those achievements visible and let your people shine. Then everyone will succeed, including you as the lead wolf.

So tip # 5: Let your people look good

Summarized my 5 best tips for you as a first-time leader:

1. Change perspective from functional expert to leader
2. Lead yourself and lead your boss
3. Delegate a lot and precisely – control, acknowledge, motivate
4. Do not stare – let go
5. Make your people look good

Thank you for your attention, 
your Stefan Homeister