Making the transition from worker to leader can be difficult. We are all creatures of habit and whether you’ve risen through the ranks to be promoted to a leadership position, or you actually founded the company yourself, it’s tempting to keep doing what you’ve always done and just do the work yourself.
Increasingly, businesses are embracing a flatter organisational structure. This means that you may be assigned areas of responsibility and change where you need the cooperation of others in several departments, but you have no official authority over these individuals. Regardless of your official rank and position, it’s also difficult to manage the adjustments in the status of your relationships that occur when you go from being a co-worker or peer to being the boss.
Disadvantages of Continuing as the “Chief Worker Bee”
Despite the challenges, it’s absolutely necessary for your personal and professional success to embrace change and transform yourself from worker to leader. Resisting this change has the following pitfalls.
- High chance of burn out if you refuse to delegate and continue to do all the work yourself.
- Increased potential for anger and jealousy from co-workers who will work to sabotage your efforts rather than “buy in” and invest their time and talents helping you to innovate and achieve core goals and mission.
- Missed opportunities, loss of competitive edge and a weakened organisation are the result when you remain a worker rather than embracing the role of leader. Your focus remains on deadlines, details and micromanagement with a lack of outward focus on strategic planning, vision and growing the business.
Steps to Make a Successful Transition from Worker to Leader
As you make the transition from worker to leader, you must stop doing everything yourself and learn to delegate. As a leader, you are not there to do all of the work, but rather to give everyone a clear purpose by defining your true vision, core value and future goals. To do so you must communicate your vision for your business and inspire others to achieve your vision.
Match Tasks with Talents and Skills. In order to delegate effectively, you must take the time to know the individual skills and talent of your people, and make an effort to match people with tasks in which they can excel.
Provide Opportunities for Growth. Giving your employee’s opportunities to improve their skills via training, coaching and experience gives them a tool set to improve their efficiency and accuracy. It also shows that you respect them as individuals and by helping your people to grow, they will in turn invest their time and effort into helping you grow your company and achieve your vision, providing a big boost in productivity, creativity and innovation.
As you transform from a worker to a leader, it is important that you earn the respect of your employees by showing respect. When there is a healthy balance of mutual respect between leaders and their people, each trusts the other to look after one another’s interest and the long term interest of your company. Part of earning respect is taking the time to establish the proper boundaries and letting others know what you expect of them.
Be Polite but Professional. While you will want to maintain friendly relationships, it’s not wise to continue to partake in the traditional “water-cooler” gossip or even to pretend your new status is an accident. Most folks take their cue from their leaders as it is the leader who sets the tone. So, while you will still want to show interest in your former co-workers as individuals, you will want to clearly define the boundaries of the new relationship.
Say No to Favouritism. Be careful not to let confidential information slip when chatting with your former peers, and don’t play favourites when assigning tasks or holding individuals accountable for performance. Doing so will cause you to not only lose the respect of others, but it can even have potentially disastrous legal consequences. So, be cordial and polite, but professional, as you begin to lead your team. If you do continue to socialise outside of work, make certain that you don’t discuss work related topics when you do so.
Expand Your Network. As you embrace your leadership role, seek out other leaders in your own organisation as well as in other businesses so that you can take advantage of their wealth of knowledge and management experience. Doing so will give you much needed support and guidance as you hone your new leadership skills. Hopefully you will also find at least one or two persons who can act as a sounding board for new ideas and to become valuable contacts that might share news of opportunities and trends you could otherwise overlook.
One mistake that many new leaders make is they fail to listen to their employees. When you seek to lead others, help them to help you. It is not a sign of weakness to seek their input and advice on how to make it easier for them to complete their tasks, or what improvements they would like to see made. The people on the front lines of your organisation often have the best insight into what is working, what isn’t, and what needs to happen to fix things. Seek their advice and consider their input before implementing change.
Leadership is not just getting work done through others, and training people to get work done efficiently, and in a productive manner. True leadership is about inspiring people to take chances and challenging them to grow and to be better than they already are.
Be Open and Embrace Change. Be open with your people and encourage them to try new things and to seek ways to improve your company’s processes and their own productivity. Let your people know that it’s okay to make mistakes and empower them to accept responsibility and proactively make changes that will improve the company’s reputation and profitability.
Recognise and Reward. Everyone likes to be noticed and to feel as though they are making a difference so take the time to notice when your employees are doing a good job and openly praise and thank them for their hard work and result.
The change may not happen overnight but if you take the time to focus on these issues, they will enable you to transform from “worker bee” to leader.