It is not unusual for someone to be promoted into a position of leadership based on their job performance. But often, the skills that got them promoted are not the ones that will help them excel as a leader.
You are bridging the gap from doing what you are told, to figuring out what it is that needs to be done in the first place.
In order to do that well, you need information from a variety of key places. You need to be connected. You need a leadership network.
Eye in the Sky
Like using a network of global positioning satellites, when you can gather information and get perspective from a variety of key sources, you will be better able to make good decisions and move in the right direction.
Of course it starts with your team. We’ve already discussed some of the important skills you need to do this well, such as setting a clear vision, giving constructive feedback, and even communicating an emotional message that resonates.
But the team is only the beginning. That’s like you and your car. You need the GPS satellites to help you know where to drive.
Here are five other places you need to connect into your leadership network if you want to be effective and successful as a leader.
Forming the Leadership Network
1. The Boss. It really goes without saying that communicating with the boss is critical. But sadly, what the boss wants is not always clear. If they are not reaching out to you to get you pointed in the right direction, then you need to make a deliberate effort to reach out to them. Make sure you have a clear understanding of:
• Vision and goals for the organization
• How your team fits into the overall picture
• Your job description and the limits of your authority
• Specific expectations he has of you and your team
If the boss seems unable or disinclined to be clear with you about these things, then try writing down what you think you are supposed to be doing. Put it on a simple one page note and give it to them.
Let them know that’s the direction you are headed, pending his input or guidance. Maybe it will spark the conversation you need to have.
2. Peer Leaders. These people can be a great resource to you for a number of reasons, largely stemming from the idea that they are trying to lead people in the same organization and under similar circumstances as you. You can learn from and support each other.
• How are they handling challenges similar to the ones you have?
• What are your teams doing that impact each other?
• What processes that you share can be improved?
• What tools or techniques can you share?
In a culture of trust, people should be willing to share as a way of helping each other improve. Where that doesn’t exist, you may have to get the ball rolling. Start by sharing something that’s working for you that might help them too.
3. The “Customer” – Think about who is on the receiving end of what you do or produce. This could be someone inside your organization, or it could be someone outside that consumes the results of your efforts.
• What are their needs, their problems?
• How satisfied are they?
• How else could you support them?
• Who else should you be talking to?
When you understand what will help them solve their problems and make life better for them, then you will know better how to ensure that the actions of your team are the right ones.
4. The Competition. As ancient Chinese strategist Sun-tzu has said, “Keep your friends close, your enemies closer.”
• What are they doing that you are not?
• What can you learn from their actions and efforts?
• What are your relative strengths that you can capitalize on?
• Where are you weak, and how can you compensate?
5. Mentors. It is always good to have someone who has the experience you are looking for and is willing to advise you as you struggle with your leadership challenges. Someone more senior within your organization can be immensely helpful, but it’s a good idea to also cultivate someone from outside. Their unique and unbiased perspective can help you to learn and grow.
• Talk about personal goals and aspirations, set targets
• Establish an accountability partnership to keep you on track
• Get their objective thoughts on leadership challenges you face
• Be sure not to violate any confidentiality or and privacy rules
Leadership Network: The Takeaway
In the world I came from, we had new leaders coming in all the time, and they were at all levels of the organization from senior “gray-beards” to “Junior Assistants to the Deputy.” The best of them always had a deliberate plan to go out and meet the people they thought would be a critical part of their leadership network.
Getting to know these people in the first weeks helped them understand their organization better, improve the quality of their decisions, solve problems faster and more effectively, and forge positive relationships that paid dividends down the road.
So start to build that leadership network now. Make your list, pick someone on it that you need to get to know, and go talk to them.
You will be glad you did.