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The 5 dangers to look out for when accepting a new leadership role

May 26, 2023  By Brian Lass

In Dec. 2018, I had triumphantly realized my first “big-deal” management position as Sergeant – Special Constable with the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Community Safety Unit. As ready as I believed myself to be for the role at the time, I undeniably, transparently and with humility can admit that I walked through the door only to fall flat on my face. However, and perhaps ironically, this experience – although extraordinarily unnerving at the time – is now self-categorized as my absolute greatest experience.

Now, with the above in mind, why would I categorize a perceivably disastrous failure as my greatest experience? Although at the time I had been labelled as a subject matter expert in the realm of provincial offences and court related considerations, I unequivocally learned that technical proficiencies do not automatically translate into leadership skills. As such, this allowed me to metaphorically pick myself up and come to both realize and appreciate that there is indeed a discipline entitled “Leadership”—of which has its own important considerations, nuances and styles. Moreover, this coming of age led to my voracious appetite for learning and embracing all-to-do with the pursuit of “leadership”. In fact, so much so that I had taken it upon myself to undertake the Executive Program in Organizational Leadership, offered through Harvard Business School. As such, and amongst the many incredibly invaluable considerations this program taught me, I share with you a tidbit of what enormously resonated with me: “The top 5 dangers of realizing a new leadership role”.

  1. The leader assumes they should have all the answers

Leaders often assume that they should have all the answers, simply because they’re in a leadership role and all eyes are on them. Not being the expert can be unsettling; however, leaders need to acknowledge that it is gravely difficult, or perhaps an impossibility, to know everything. Leaders must be willing to ask questions, seek ideas and learn from those who have depth in areas that the leader does not. In other words, leaders will not always have the right answer and need be comfortable with endeavouring to ask the right questions from the right people.

  1. The leader fails to relinquish their authority over a specific area to others

Leaders must recognize that they are no longer the authority in a specific area where they once held expertise. Someone else is now in command of those details and may have a different perspective. The danger is that leaders fail to appreciate that the world has changed and they don’t acknowledge that their perspective, however deep it might once have been, is not the only one and may no longer even be relevant. Moreover, leadership – amongst other considerations – is about creating other leaders, and a steadfast way to accomplish this is by delegating authority, as opposed to merely delegating tasks.

  1. The leader remains deeply involved in specific areas

Leaders may try to remain deeply involved in the details of specific tasks and the delivery of outputs that were central to their prior role. To those who are the experts in these areas now, this can feel like micromanagement and as if their leader does not trust them to do the work correctly. As such, the leader must remember that they are there to cultivate and foster an environment for their trusted team to work at their natural best. However, the leader is not there to merely “tell the frontline what to do”. As the late Steve Jobs of Apple once stated; “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Technical proficiencies do not automatically translate into leadership skills.

  1. The leader jumps into the discussion, thinking that their words will not be weighed more heavily

Leaders must take more care in what they say. Earnest questions, brainstormed thoughts or partial proposals are often interpreted as marching orders if uttered by the leader, however provisionally. Those who have better insight – because they are closer to the issues – may defer to the authority of a leader, to the detriment of the business. As such, and close in line with the saying “leaders eat last”, a perceivable leader should also “speak last”, so as to allow their trusted team of professional experts to speak, suggest and discuss openly without influence and without imposition of a reasonable apprehension of bias to the conversation.

  1. The leader has reservations around providing their own perspective, for fear of being wrong or overstepping

Although somewhat contradictory to the previous item, timidity or tentativeness, stemming from a fear of being wrong or overstepping, constitute the fifth danger. To be clear, timidity and tentativeness differ from the humility required to avoid the first four dangers. Humility is essential if a leader is to ask questions, step back from the details of their former area, and let others apply their expertise. But, alongside that humility to know when to step back, a leader must appreciate the value they alone bring to the role and have confidence to bring that perspective into the conversation. As, being in management and/or successive roles that comprise a wider scope, you bring a big-picture perspective that is as valid and as important as the expertise and perspectives of those you are leading.

For myself, these five items have majorly impacted my ability to proactively navigate my world of management and/or perceivable leadership roles. As such, I hope this article provides new insight, considerations and, furthermore, greatly assists with all of your endeavours.

Brian Lass is currently Sergeant – Special Constable with the Toronto Community Housing, Community Safety Unit, and formerly a provincial prosecutor with Metrolinx (a Crown Agency). Lass is a graduate of the Harvard Business School Executive Program in Organizational Leadership.

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