Four Key Lessons For New Leaders

It can be daunting to take on your first leadership role. The usual scenario is that you have expertise in your chosen field and things have been going well, so
12 Nov 2016 11:14
Four Key Lessons For New Leaders
Mark Wager

It can be daunting to take on your first leadership role. The usual scenario is that you have expertise in your chosen field and things have been going well, so well in fact that your employer now wants to offer you a promotion.

You are no longer just one of the team. You are now expected to lead the team.

You are excited with this reward and eager to face the challenges that come with a leadership role but hidden inside that excitement are some concerns.

It’s natural to be concerned about leaving a role that you are doing well in and entering a role that requires a different skill set than the role you were rewarded for.

I know what you are going through, I’ve been there myself and I have coached many leaders from different industries and countries through this difficult time.

It’s difficult because in my experience there’s a big disconnect between what you are told about leadership and the reality of what you will experience day to day as a new leader.

Leadership is a challenge and people will tell you a lot about leadership but as a new leader you need to know what people won’t tell you and in my experience there are four main things that employers fail to tell their new leaders.


People are just weird

People are wonderfully complex and unique but let’s be honest people are just weird.

When some people laugh others cry, when some shout others in the same situation decide to remain quiet.

The majority of issues that my clients raise when I coach them are related to people.

It’s a challenge to communicate and motivate people with different personalities than yourself, especially when there’s a difference in work ethics.

This promotes the idea of leaders only employing people similar to themselves and perceiving people with other personalities as poor performers when in fact they are just being poorly led.

While this tactic has short-term gains it generally  limits the teams potential as the different perspectives are never seen.

To be successful as a leader you need to have a thorough understanding of human psychology and why people react the way they do.

If you don’t know people then you can’t lead.


Leadership has a dark side

Leadership is about having the power to influence people. This power can be addictive and corruptive.

When I’m contacted  to visit organisations to resolve leadership issues the most common cause of these issues are when the leader is unaware that it is their ego that’s leading and not them.

Too often leaders forget that the power that comes with leadership doesn’t belong to them.

A leader is the custodian of the trust and faith placed in them by people who have made the decision to follow them.

If a leader doesn’t have a strong level of emotional intelligence then it’s easy for the leader to consider themselves more important than the followers who have given them the power.

When this occurs, it can lead to the leader making decisions that benefit themselves rather than the team and in the most serious of situations leads to corruption.

The first step to becoming a leader is first being able to lead yourself, have a strong moral code, become mentally tough and have emotional intelligence.

Without these in place you will never truly be able to lead.


You will have to lead up as well as down

When you are a leader it’s a challenge to motivate and inspire your team yet there is an even greater challenge that faces leaders and one that is very rarely discussed.

If you are part of an organisation then the chances are that you will have a boss, someone in a position to either make your life a lot easier or a lot harder.

A leader needs to be able to lead people above them in the organisational structure rather than just those below them.

Leading upwards is a unique skill in itself as the dynamics between a leader and their boss is very different to a traditional leader/follower relationship.

Start by learning what people above you define as success, make sure you are all focussed on the same goal and have a clear idea of how everyone knows the goal has been achieved.

Spend time finding out about the Managers above you, what are their motivations, what drives them.

The more you know about them the more you can successfully interact and the more you can influence.


It’s okay to be yourself

Everyone has an image of what a leader should be and it can be demoralising when a new leader looks in the mirror and doesn’t see that type of leader is looking back at them.

In the quest to move from the person you are to the leader you believe people want you to be, its easy to lose your way.

When I coach new leaders the most common mistake they make is trying to become a particular kind of leader rather than become the leader they really are.

This reminds me of the story of Michelangelo who was once asked why he was such a great sculptor.

He replied: “It was because other people look at the marble and think what can I make out if it yet when I look at the marble I think about what is in the marble that needs to be revealed.

Authenticity is the key to successful lasting leadership so when you look in the mirror the leader who looks back at you is a better version of yourself and not someone else.

A new leadership role can be daunting but leadership is just a series of skills and techniques that can be learnt.

You have been given this opportunity because you were doing your previous role very well, your previous role that was composed of a series of skills and techniques that you successfully learnt.

You may be at the bottom of a new ladder but it’s a ladder that you can climb and the first step is knowing what others won’t tell you.


Mark Wager is one of the world’s top leadership experts. Mark can be contacted at


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