Are you a highly skilled engineer, lawyer, accountant, or doctor being asked to take on a leadership position? This is a situation that many professionals face each year. If your next position involves leadership of the firm, what do you need to do to prepare yourself?
You have devoted years of formal education, practical work experience, and certification testing, but none, or little, of that has involved leadership training.
Here are just a few of the important areas that you will need to address quickly to be successful in your new role:
What is the number one thing that you must grapple with? Not personnel practices, budgets, or board presentations. It is going from having to know all the right answers, to needing to know all the right questions to ask. For a skilled professional that is a steep hill to climb. You are used to being the acknowledged expert in your area, and you can provide answers at any level of detail. Now you need to train and coach your direct reports to fill that role without telling them what the answer is all the time. Otherwise you are doing their job for them.
Managing vs. Leading
You manage a project or patient issues to their logical conclusion, but now you need to lead people. This skill involves many subtleties and “grey areas” with your focus needing to be on others rather than yourself or the “situation.” Each individual needs to be motivated differently by someone whom they respect and trust. You will now need to make decisions based on what is in the best interest of the firm NOT on your individual contribution or practice area. That is a big shift.
Just because you are the boss does not mean you can dictate how people respond or how the group reaches a successful outcome. There is a distinct difference between making a spilt-second decision in a court room, operating room, or job site, and positioning the firm, its partners, and employees for future success. It takes time and a subtle approach to get everyone “on the same page.” That is your new role. You have been involved in client situations and understand that there are different ways to communicate the same message to a company CEO, business unit leader, or front-line worker. You will need to use different techniques with your team to make decisions that now affect everyone. Your lens needs to be more global and not parochial, so you see the outcomes and unintended consequences through the eyes of others.
There are multiple ways to approach these challenges: 1) Enroll in management training courses; 2) Connect with a mentor; 3) Join a peer group; 4) Hire an Executive Coach. Each of these steps will help you decrease the “load in” time and better prepare you for your new role. Pick whatever combination fits your personal style. And good luck. Remember that you have earned this new position.