Reyer: How to become a leader

  • Article by: LIZ REYER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 20, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Q. I’ve just been promoted into a leadership role. I’m excited, but also kind of overwhelmed. What do I need to do to be good at my new job?

A. Great leadership arises from knowing yourself and understanding others.

The inner game

Growth is exciting and challenging, but can also be a bit frightening. Let go of any anx­iety you have, letting yourself ease into a calm state by focusing on your breathing. As you feel tension wane, envision how you’ll feel as you become successful in your role. Recall how you’ve felt in the past when you’ve succeeded in new endeavors, and apply that to your current situation.

Focus for now on self-assessment, understanding the strengths you bring. When you consider the abilities a good leader has, where do you think you excel? At the same time, like anyone, you have areas for development. Determine the aspects that are your top priority for improvement, especially as they relate to leadership skills. If you’re having trouble focusing, consider asking your boss to provide some perspective on this.

Become curious about your concerns. What are you afraid may happen? Taking it further, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Write them down and then consider how likely they are. Addressing these underlying worries will help you keep them from blocking you.

Now reflect on your level of skill in dealing with other people. In your new role, it’s important to be able to inspire, motivate and support your team, which also requires skills at “managing up” within the organization.

The outer game

Based on your self-assessment, select a couple of areas for development. It’s important to not take on too much at once so that you can really master your new skill areas.

Say, for example, that you decide you need to focus on giving feedback to team members to help them improve. Make a plan to accomplish this skill, recognizing that fear of the unexpected is the source of a lot of anxiety.

• Understand your starting point. Perhaps you know what to say, but are nervous about raising “negatives.”

• Learn a method to accomplish your goal. You can get ideas on how to improve from a mentor, a training program, a book, or even from modeling behavior from someone you know.

• Get ready. Prepare carefully, thinking about what you want to say, how you’ll handle a variety of reactions, and the outcome that you’re hoping for.

• Try it out. Take a couple of deep breaths and go for it. See what works well and what doesn’t, and learn from your experiences.

Be patient with yourself. Learning a new skill and having it become a habit takes time, and be willing to learn from mistakes as well as successes.

This will all go better with a support network. Beyond your boss, identify people who will help you learn, cheer you on, and give you feedback. And be sure to cele­brate your ­successes to build momentum for continued improvement.

The last word

Enjoy the process — growing as a leader also means growing as a person, and can be a lifelong pursuit.

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