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5 Things First Time Leaders Need to do Differently for Success

Written by
Sarah Keffer
Published on
December 1, 2023

Moving into a leadership role is incredibly exciting. It is a testament to all the hard work already accomplished in your career, and the confidence shown in you by leaders of your company. Go you! But, the skills that got you to this point are often not the same ones that will help you flourish in your new role. So many organizations in our world today do not have the tools to teach this, leaving their emerging leaders to learn it on their own, often after they already feel unsupported, frustrated and near burnout. The great news is that you can start implementing these tactics at any point in your career journey and immediately reap the benefits.

So, let’s dive in! Here is a list of the top 5 things you must do today to set yourself (and your team) up for success.

1. A New Approach to Time Management

The quickest way to avoid burnout is to take control of your schedule instead of letting it control you. Categorize your work into two types: high-function and low-function tasks.

High function tasks are the power stuff, the meat of your job. Strategy work, performance reviews, running your team (1:1s, initiatives/projects planning, etc), copywriting, coding, the list goes on. You probably have a few things come to mind. 

Low function tasks are more administrative in nature. Responding to email and Slack, project management, preparing reports, you get where I am going. 

How you consistently manage these are the key. Let’s dive into the how. 

Look at your calendar. Yes, right now! Let’s do this together. 

When in your day do you have the most excitement and energy to get work done? 

When are you at your lowest point, filled with brain fog, just trying to make it through the moment? 

Those are your two extremes in the day and we all have them. My biggest advice is to manage in and around these. Here’s a few tips on how:

  • Do the hard stuff when you have the energy. The high function tasks. I promise, we all have things that are hard or we just don’t wanna, but tackling that task when you are at your best will actually boost your energy (Dopamine, babes! It’s science!). 
  • Take extra breaks at and around your low point. This is not a time to push yourself through and especially not a time to have important meetings with your team. Highly recommend focusing on the low function tasks during this time, so you are still working through each item, staying consistent, and seeing progress. 

There are so many other helpful elements to time management, but at the core is categorizing (as mentioned above) and staying consistent, not bouncing around between each like a pinball. Bonus points if you can even block off your low point in the day so a last minute meeting or request doesn’t get slotted into that space. 

2. Show Up For Your People

As you probably know, people don't quit jobs; they quit bosses. Studies show that 57% of people leave their jobs due to poor leadership. While you won't be perfect, there are principles and actions you can take to lead your team effectively. These immediate actions can start you on the path towards happy, high performing and retained teams. 

The first and most paramount way to show up for your team is with empathy. To lead with empathy means understanding and valuing the emotions and perspectives of your team to create a supportive work environment. Simply put, create space for the human to show up and honor where they are at. 

The second is to actually guide them. Hold to a promise of weekly (yes, weekly) 1:1s. That is your pulse on the human and the business, so be on time and be present. I always run my 1:1s in a 3:1 cadence. Three weekly meetings focused on the business and your employees experience of their work, followed by one session focused solely on the individual. This, in the simplest form, allows you to show up for them, but also teaches that person to show up for themselves

As a side note, one of my favorite experiences as a leader was encouraging and guiding someone on how to show up for themselves. The sparkle of life that happens when someone sets goals, is held accountable for them, and knows you are walking beside them to achieve those goals…absolute magic. 

Here is a simple framework for running 1:1s effectively:

Remember, this is about that other human. Get curious and prioritize connection over outcomes. 

3. Uplevel Your Agency

Moving into a leadership role transforms you into an agent for the business, not just your function. This means you are trying to drive the business forward, sometimes with competing priorities. The best way to start your new way of thinking is by long-term goal setting. I promise, we aren’t about to go through a goal setting exercise! Instead, I want you to think about goals around fostering a culture of learning, innovation, and adaptability. 

Imagine a workplace where your team embodies these cultural traits. It's a place where curiosity and creativity flourish, where problems become opportunities, and where adaptability is second nature. When learning and innovation on your team means you are transitioning more into leading, supporting, and guiding, you're not just improving your agency; you're shaping its future.

In this transformative journey, you'll find that your role as a leader extends beyond tasks and deliverables. It's about nurturing a dynamic ecosystem where individuals thrive and ideas evolve. 

Embrace this shift, and you'll discover the profound impact you can have on your team and the entire organization. Upleveling your agency means becoming a catalyst for positive change and innovation that propels your business into a brighter future.

4. Create Focus 

Now is the time to learn how to focus on the right things, not all the things. Oftentimes, when we get into new roles, the eagerness sets in and we become “yes” people. 

Maybe, your past agreements to take on great work and challenges are what got you the growth opportunity in the first place. But now, the goal is to make sure your work is focused and intentional. 

One massively impactful piece of focus is delegating. The art of delegation is two fold. Not only are you passing on skill development and growing your team, but you are making space for your own growth in the role. Every time you start your day and make a to-do list, ask yourself, “what on this list can someone on the team do?” If it is easy to quickly identify someone, then pass that task along. However, if the answer is no one, take the time to identify and teach someone that skill. 

Effective delegation involves assigning responsibilities, setting clear expectations, and providing support while maintaining overall accountability for the team's success. 

5. Plan For The Future

Every Batman has his Robin, and every great leader plans for the future. In the world of leadership, succession planning is similar to grooming your own Robin—the trusted ally who can step into your shoes when needed. It's about preparing the next generation of leaders within your organization.

Much like Batman mentors and trains Robin, as a leader you now have the responsibility to identify and develop talent that will uphold your organization's mission and values. Succession planning involves more than just identifying potential successors; it requires nurturing their skills, providing opportunities for growth, and instilling a deep understanding of your organization's culture.

Great leaders have legacy. By investing in the growth of your team members and building a robust succession plan, you create a dynamic and resilient organization that thrives long into the future. 

As a new or first-time leader, I am confident you are going to shine as you incorporate these five principles into your leadership approach. These principles not only guide your leadership journey but also serve as pathways for your team as you collectively strive for excellence and lasting success.

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