So you find yourself in a leadership role, and it’s a little daunting. Maybe more than a little. Maybe you feel that you have to know everything and do everything right now.
It’s true that people are looking to you for direction. It is not true—as any experienced leader worthy of the name will tell you—that you have to know or do everything.
With that in mind, here are 5 things that really will help you if you do them right now.
Frantic activity is not what leaders do—at least, not the good ones. Great leaders take time for reflection, planning, and assessment, including self-assessment.
Right now, right here, stop listening to the voice that says you should know all the answers. You can find answers—see steps 3 and 4. But you can’t find them if you’re running in circles trying to do everything and learn everything all at once.
When you’re centered in your body and environment, you can be calm and focused. When you’re thinking of 30 things and trying to accomplish 5 of them at once, you’ll get frantic, snappy, or both.
Guess which version of you is a better leader.
Coming back to center starts with breathing. Try this: Take a long, slow in-breath, counting to 4. Breathe out, long and slow, to a count of 6. Pause. Repeat three or four times. See? Better already.
After that, try one of these centering exercises:
OK, now that you’re here and now instead of 5 places at once, you can start to do some useful thinking.
If you’re in a new leadership role, a great first step is to take stock of the leadership qualities and skills you already have.
Take a minute for this hypothetical: What would you do if the fire alarm went off right now and you knew it was the real thing? Visualize the scenario, and watch yourself using leadership skills.
You started learning to lead when you were a child. Even if you were a playground follower, you watched leaders—both your peers and the adults around you.
And you’ve certainly gained leadership skills in the meantime. You can probably think of instances at work when you led others, even if you didn’t have the title. (Maybe it was during a fire alarm!)
Use all of your experience. Maybe you’ve been coaching your kid’s soccer team or directing your church choir. These experiences have given you insights you can use to form your approach to leading your team.
You already used your curiosity in step 3 as you took stock of your previous experience. Now maybe you can ask questions about other people’s leadership in the past.
Consider leaders you’ve worked under. Which ones got the best work out of you and your colleagues? What specifically did they do? Make a list of leadership actions, skills, and qualities you admire.
Turn over the page and consider bosses who weren’t really leaders at all. What did they do that makes you never want to work for them again? Make a list of not-really-leadership actions, skills, and qualities that—however common they may be—seem designed to annoy people rather than inspire them.
Now you have a start toward defining the kind of leader you want to be.
Whatever you learn from these reflective practices, don’t make the common mistake of implementing everything you learn right away. Reflect, maybe do some reading (more on that another time), and let your ideas gel before you decide what to implement.
You didn’t move into this leadership position overnight. Similarly, you can’t become the leader your people need overnight.
Now that you’ve got the title, you’re going to be a leader for the rest of your life. You’ve got plenty of time. Use it intentionally.