Three Pieces of Advice for New Leaders

February 20, 2015 | Bill Catlette | HCI
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Often, when someone is first appointed to a leadership role, it occurs via a “battlefield promotion” where the person in front of them, the incumbent leader goes up, down, or away, and they are thrust into the role. For some reason, this often seems to occur on a Friday, and the conversation goes something like this: “You’ve been here a while now, and you know the business, the people and processes. You’re a natural. Starting Monday, I want you to be the new (fill in the blank job title). I have confidence that you will succeed.” Left unsaid is the very real message, “and you’ve got all weekend to get ready.”

As a leadership coach, I work with managers up and down the ladder, helping them capitalize on their strengths, discover hidden (to them) weaknesses, and rehab or minimize the impact of the latter. In almost every case, these leaders find that there is more work for them to do in at least one of the following areas. As an emerging leader, some effort on your part now, while you’re still in a formative stage will pay great dividends to you.

Less Selfies, More Ussies

Being a leader is not about you. Repeat, it’s not about you. Rather, it’s about them…  the team, the mission. In that vein:

  • Be quick to share credit, and to take rightful responsibility when things go wrong. You, your brand, and your rep will be much better burnished by the well-shared accomplishments of your team than by any solo spotlights you put on yourself. Put the selfie-stick away.
  • Rather than surrounding yourself with the trappings of power (even the little ones), pay attention instead to making sure, real sure that your team has what it needs to succeed – the tools, the training, the information, the freedom to do their very best work.
  • The best leaders are quick to use the influence and tools at their disposal, including personal resources, to give their team a better chance to succeed, and some recognition when they do. Good leaders realize that part of their role is to occasionally TOFTT, and get beat up a bit for someone on the team without “passing the heat.”

Ten Words You Need to Get Comfortable With

  • No. I’m not suggesting here that you become hard hearted – not at all. But I am recommending that you be extremely judicious about the projects you join or accept, and the meetings you attend. Otherwise, the day will come very soon when you discover that you are fully consumed by non-core activities, you go home tired every night, and yet the things you get paid to do aren’t getting done. Worse yet, you won’t be the only one who has noticed.
  • Thank You. No one gets tired of hearing these words, do they? Use them well, use them often.
  • I Don’t Know. If you don’t know the answer to something, either remain silent until you figure it out, or simply say you don’t know. Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t build confidence when you bs people. Rather, you diminish your perceived authenticity and humility, both of which are essential to your success.
  • What Do YOU Think? It’s easy for us as leaders to have our thought processes limited, if not poisoned by breathing our own stale exhaust. Asking people to tell you what they think about a given subject conveys respect for them, and can produce ideas and solutions that you never would have dreamt of, if you will display the good sense to listen to them.  

Grow, Baby!

Landing your first leadership gig is the start, not the culmination of your development. How long you last in this role, how successful you are, and how enjoyable the experience is all hinge on your ability to learn and adapt, starting right now. Here are three areas where most leaders, new and old still have work to do. I bet you do, too.

  • Be a Better Listener. Listening takes time and it takes a lot of energy. It’s something you have to work at. Be conscious of how much of the talking you are doing (as opposed to listening) in any ‘conversation’, and bear in mind the ‘two ears, one mouth’ axiom. Also, make it a point to monitor the amount of dead air time in your conversations. If your mouth flies open the second the other person shuts up, it’s likely that you’ve been doing more ‘waiting to talk’ than listening.
  • Read More. Face it, most of the responsibility for your development as a leader is going to fall on your shoulders. Just as children who learn to read earlier and read more develop faster, so, too will leaders. Make it a point to regularly read at least one business or professional periodical, and simultaneously, a management-oriented book.
  • Build More White Space Into Your Calendar. As a leader, at any level, you get paid to think. If you’re not building some white space into your daily calendar, you are likely doing more reacting than you should. Try hard to give yourself at least thirty minutes of time during your business day to do little more than think.

Having the opportunity to lead a team is a challenge that most people never get to take on. Work at it, and be proud of what you and your team are able to accomplish together. Good luck.


A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette ( is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes.