I am frequently asked what makes a great leader and aside from being authentic and aligned with the company’s values, it’s hard to pin the actual traits down. An excellent read recently published in Fast Company about the traits that got you there but won’t necessarily serve you in a leadership role offers a good answer to the question.
Moving up from being a successful individual contributor to a successful leader can be a tough transition – going from “doing” to “being” a leader is never as smooth as one would hope. Previously, I wrote that one of the most important things to do in your career is to guard your reputation – and along with that, here are the seven traits that the author identifies can hold you back from a successful transition to leadership:
- Being Precise and Correct
- Focusing on Strong Technical Skills
- Seeking Ownership and Recognition
- A Large Appetite for Risk
While building your skills in a workplace, you need all of the above to do well and more importantly, to be noticed. However, as you transition to leader, it means most of these will be far less useful than they once were. For example, being precise and correct will not help you develop leaders below you and focusing on the technical skills ignores the obvious people skills you will need to develop as a leader. Leadership is getting things done through others, not doing them yourself.
While building a reputation and finding your leadership footing it’s natural to want people to notice you so you will take credit for things as appropriate. However, as a leader, if you take credit for things your team did, you will build resentment. It’s better to give credit than to take it as a leader. While Self-Reliance is regarded as a “can-do” spirit as a team member, if you start doing everything yourself and leaving your team out, you will look behind you and no one will be following. You can’t lead if the team has abandoned you.
Networking is an interesting one because you will need to keep networking, just not as much. Your networking should become more focused and purposeful and your “ask” should be known in advance. You should think about it more strategically, not transactionally.
The last two traits, a large appetite for risk and patience might seem counterintuitive. Don’t we want these traits as leaders? However, the more responsibility you have, the more your appetite for risk will and should go down because the consequences of a bad decision are larger and potentially more long-lasting. As an individual contributor, you were patient for your opening but as a leader, you will have bigger demands on you and therefore you need to have less patience for poor performance, and you need opportunities to prove your team’s worth, not just your own.
As with anything, success is always in the timing. Know what you need to bring to the table at the right time and what you need to put away for future use. Leadership is always a balancing act.