When you rise up to the challenge of your first leadership role, it is never quite what you expect, so our two directors have spoken candidly about what the experience was like for them as emerging leaders.
It was a mix and surge of excitement, seeing the future and anxiety around suddenly having a team of people with diverse capabilities that you needed to rally and engage with, says Melina. When the future was positive and things were on track, it was easy, but in some cases, you inherited a team that was just getting the job done and disengaged.
I recall thinking I’ve got this and within seconds panicking that I was failing as I navigated another tumultuous conversation.
There wasn’t time to plan for those conversations, you had to jump in. Melina recalls being hungry to learn, yet lacking the learning opportunities, mentors, or role models around her to draw from. There was no google, no online webinars, no ted talks, the best books she could access included “who moved my cheese” and “how to win friends and influence people” so it was sink or swim. Eventually swimming with some help from her floaties, noodles and kick board!”
She learnt very quickly that it was critical to find and access all resources and networks around you.
When I reflect over my leadership journey, especially those first few months, it was a whirlwind of emotions, recalls Suria. On one hand I was ecstatic that I was promoted, all my hard work as a high performing individual had paid off. Suria felt the promotion was finally the recognition she deserved. And on the other hand, she wondered what exactly had she signed up for?
Leading was especially tough. She now had a team of people reliant on her, that somehow, she needed to influence to achieve the results that were needed to keep her in that newly promoted leadership role!
No matter how much leadership content Suria digested, she claims she never quite felt prepared, “in the early days, my experience as a leader was incredibly lonely and overwhelming”.
It’s clear that the right support and coaching is critical when rising up, as new and emerging leaders learn to navigate the unknown with a double-edged sword of excitement and fear of failure.
But what got you here won't keep you here, so we asked both directors to be upfront about what their double-edged sword felt like.
Seeing the future has always been the exciting part of leadership for Melina and finding new and novel ways to engage her team in that future, setting goals and cultivating unity. That part of leading was innate to her. And when people kicked goals, particularly the ones that thought they couldn’t, it energised her as she relished in seeing people grow and believe in their own greatness. At the other end were those challenging conversations, balancing tension and conflict, letting people know that performance was not up to expectations.
No one wants to deliver bad news, as humans, it’s natural to steer away from these conversations and as a naturally optimistic leader, Melina preferred the positive to absorb her focus.
The challenge was to deliver poor performance feedback in a way that is useful and helps people grow rather than holds them back and is disengaging, as that was much harder to recuperate from. Melina describes that as a new and emerging leader, with no training or role models, it was like walking into a leadership lab, learning through trial and error.
Suria always believed her calling was people.
Developing people and seeing them grow and transform both professionally and personally was what excited her about leadership.
It was never enough to be a high performing individual contributor - she was passionate about teams and more specifically how to transform underperforming teams into extraordinarily successful teams. This passion anchored Suria, particularly on those days that were especially challenging navigating tension between team members or having to let someone go who was not meeting performance expectations.
We asked both Suria and Melina if they could do it again, what support or development would they want as emerging leaders? Both agree that an opportunity to
learn with others in similar shoes
would have been powerful and may have helped them undo some of those early mistakes. And that a mentor, coach or role-model outside their direct line manager would also have helped them quench their hunger to learn from experienced leaders in a safe environment, as well as having access to practical tools and tips they could practice with and take into everyday workplace conversations.
Which is exactly why they designed and launched RISEUP to the challenge, a program and playbook for emerging leaders. Bringing people together in similar shoes to learn, practice and grow in a safe environment, whilst accessing practical tools they could take into the workplace.
So, what advice did they have for up and coming emerging leaders? Melina says she didn’t need to over think this one, her advice; stay curious, prioritise building trust and connection and take the time to ensure all team members feel connected. Discover the unity in the work, discuss meaning and define purpose. Let your skills and theirs do the rest. And learn, wherever, whenever, and often, via programs, communities, books, online, networks, coaches, mentors, feedback, self-assessments, the list is endless,
more importantly see learning as infinite.
Similarly to Melina, Suria believes it's important for a new leader to establish and
build connection with their team first and foremost.
This includes either introducing, or deepening existing team rituals such as a morning goal setting meeting or weekly team lunches, a time where you come together as a team to check in, connect, set goals and celebrate. Her second piece of advice is to build a network of other leaders and mentors (if you haven’t already) that you can lean on for support, encouragement and mentoring. Cast your net wide connecting with leaders with different strengths or who can offer you alternate perspectives. She says leaders are more likely to make effective decisions, be more innovative and experience growth when they collaborate and harness the collective wisdom of others.
As a new and emerging leader, while your journey is yours alone, it doesn’t have to be lonely when you have your tribe in your corner!
To discover more about our RISEUP emerging leaders program, email us, or register for one of our 2022 up and coming programs here.