In my eyes, the biggest mistake inexperienced leaders make is acting as if they know everything already. I’ve seen this, and have experienced people in my organization acting this way, and it’s not fun for them and everyone else.
I’ve talked about this before, my first leadership experience in job was when I was 18 years old and worked at FedEx Ground. I was a leader without a title, people followed me because I developed a system that worked better than was before by reducing a 10 step process to 5 with less people; it made people’s work easier and the FedEx warehouse I worked at almost tripled the amount of volume it could handle.
I made many mistakes, but the mistake I never made is thinking and acting as if I knew more than anyone. What I did know, and had full confidence in, was that my ideas were better than what was before I got there.
Two things stood out to me when I got to FedEx Ground, one I brainstormed and experimented to create (the system). The other, leading, was my personality. The way I led people went against the status quo. I trained, coached and developed people, I empowered them to act without asking me or anyone, and I took a step back (which was hard for me as a control freak!).
Whilst the “managers” simply told people what to do and that was it. They were there to look over things, and they acted like the owned the place; they didn’t work for their subordinates. I was the opposite, and it showed in performance and engagement from people.
The Managers and supervisors saw me as both a star subordinate and a threat, because I made them look good (the results) but I also made them look like they were stuck in the mud whilst I ran laps around them; thus they feared and respected me.
This was my first leadership experience, it’s one that I remember fondly because I didn’t know everything I know today and was acting on instinct alone.
How can you lead effectively when you’re an inexperienced leader?
Here are a few things you can do to be an effective inexperienced leader:
Practice humility but question the givens
I naturally question authority, but that’s me. Most people don’t. So, the easy answer is to be humble, shut up, open your ears and your mind. That is if you have a mentor with the right mindset and perspective, but if you have the Managers I had the answer is listen to the voice of experience, but make up your own mind.
Expand your perspective by seeking the opinions of others
This goes back to thinking you know everything. You don’t. And even when you’re experienced, you should still act like you don’t know. The point is that you have to actively seek the opinions of others to make better decisions and create an environment where others can shine.
It’s all about the team, not you
You work with your team, they don’t work for you to make you look good. Let them know that you look forward to working with them, not because you have to but because you will.
Praise and take blame when
A team is only as good as its leadership. If the team isn’t living up to expectations, it’s your fault; not theirs. When the team exceeds expectations, you praise them for their hard work and commitment; you don’t take any credit.
Give responsibility to get accountability
Just as you are inexperienced as a leader, you’ll have inexperienced people around you. Advance the potential of inexperienced team members by helping them try things. You prolong inexperience when you avoid new experiences. The cure for inexperience is trying things. The same applies to you as a new leader.
Don’t avoid difficult conversations
There are times when things don’t happen as they should and you’ll have to talk to team members. Please, don’t avoid these conversations. Truthfully, the more you avoid difficult conversations the less of a leader you become.
Be the leader you wish you had
This principle applied to my first leadership experience. Although I got the spotlight on me, I never acted like a big deal. I was never satisfied and would tell people that things could be better that they were and we should never stop improving. Simply put: lead by example.
The foundations of great leadership
Finally, remember the foundations of great leadership:
- If you want to earn respect, give respect.
- If you want to earn influence, give influence.
- If you want to earn trust, give trust.
Bottom line: The worst thing you can do as an inexperienced leader is think and believe that you know everything, have a false sense of confidence because you believe the “title” gives you that. Let me tell you, the title doesn’t mean a damn thing. People don’t follow titles, they follow people. Oh, and do what you should do if you were experienced and accomplished: stay humble.