The first three things you need to do when you get promoted to leadership

Photo by Gia Oris on Unsplash

Stop, Forget and Deflect

The Military is a funny thing. A very unique working environment for many reasons. One of which, is that all positions are filled from within.

There is no external recruitment (although this may change in some areas soon). Even more unique to this process is there are next to no job interviews. Every single vacated leadership and management position is allocated by the equivalent of Human Resources. Firstly, people are promoted. Then a position identified for them. Then they and their new organisation are notified of their new position.

Doesn’t that sound weird?

Imagine you are promoted to Chief Technical Officer first, then a decision as to which company you would work second. That’s how the Military does it. Someone will be promoted to a certain rank, then a job will be identified for them. Now, don’t get me wrong, you and the company have a bit of a say — but in the end, it is ‘what is best for the Military’ that ultimately decides.

Because of this, there are a series of ‘promotion courses’ that every member must attend. These courses focus on aspects of military management, studies in recent and historic military campaigns, theory on leadership models, study and writing on force projection amongst other things.

All of these things are important to extend and deepen knowledge, create valuable peer networks and understand requirements for managing personnel. But, I believe it fails in one key area.

It does not adequately address the gap between being the best, to growing a team of the best.

In my mentoring discussions with some peers and colleagues, many people are struggling with the transition from being the best contributor to a first level manager. This is both at the enlisted and the officer ranks.

They initially rely on all the things that got them noticed and earned that promotion. Being good at getting stuff done. But rather than double-down on trying to be even better at getting stuff done, you need to change your approach. Unfortunately, no one has ever really told you what you need to do instead.

I’ll let you know the first three things you need to do when you get that much sought after and hard-earned promotion. There are a lot more but these three are important.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

1. Don’t just write to-do lists

You’ve been promoted, congratulations. You have worked very hard to get noticed, to outperform your peers, and earn that promotion. You’ve been noted by your peers and supervisors as identifying what needs to be done, and going and doing it.

Now, you are managing a small team of contributors. You still need to identify what needs to be done, but you are no longer solely responsible for doing it. You got promoted by doing, now you need to grow the expertise of your team to do it. You need to stop trying to do so much.

You need to write a to-stop list.

Here’s the thing, you got promoted by being one of the best at getting things done. Without too much assistance; you self-identify the problem, you self-manage the resources and consultation, you self-define the success criteria, and you take it upon yourself to communicate with your boss along the way.

With your promotion, you are no longer worried just about your self. You have a team to grow. If you continue to put yourself in the middle of everything your team does, you will stifle their ability to grow.

You need to work out what you have to stop doing. So don’t just write to-do lists. Write to-stop lists, and work out what needs to happen for you to check them off.

What is it that I feel like I need to do right now, that I need to stop and let the team take control of?

What is it that I am doing, that I am not uniquely qualified to be doing, could someone else be doing this?

Answering these questions, and being pro-active about stopping what it is you need to stop, is one of the keys to making the transition from doer to a manager.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

2. Forgot everything you think you know

Be genuinely curious about your staff and what they do. There is only one way to do this well. It is to realise that knowing everything, or even anything really, does not benefit you here.

The only type of boss that this start point benefits, is the insecure boss, the person who feels the need to justify their position as the boss. They seek to value add to every conversation, interject with their perspective and to pivot or change strategies. They look to continuously justify their position.

That is the wrong thing to focus on. Remember, you do not have to do so much. You have to let others do. You need to focus on working out where you can really value-add to the team. You will have to learn the business, the success criteria for the team, but you need to forget what you think you know and learn what you do need to know.

The best way to find this out is to listen more and talk less. Focus on asking questions of the team (and your boss). You should ask your boss, or their boss if you can, ‘who are the best people in the organisation to talk to and understand what would make my team successful?’. Once you have their details, those of your staff and boss, you can use the stop, start and continue question structure as a starting point.

  • “What do you see that we should stop doing because it doesn’t add much value?”.
  • “What do you see that we need to start doing because it will improve what we do?”.
  • “What is it that we are currently doing that is important we continue to do?”.

If you ask these three questions of your staff periodically, but importantly at the start, you will start to see where you can value add. You must remember to ask why they believe you should stop, start or continue something. Once you have done this you can set yourself two priorities, two areas of focus;

  1. Of what needs to be done, what is it you are uniquely qualified and best placed to do? And,
  2. What is it you need to focus on to support your team in doing the rest?

Understand these two things, execute them, and you will go a long way in being the leader you need to be.

Photo by N I F T Y A R T ✍?| iPhone 6 photography on Unsplash

3. Give it all away, all that you have and receive

Your team is getting to know you, they may well know your boss, and will definitely know the person you replaced. They will have an impression of you and they will be comparing you to those that have gone before.

You can control none of that.

What you can control is what you choose to do, and one thing you should focus on early is giving it all away.

Praise, that is.

You need Captain America’s shield here — deflect it all. If your team member does something good, tell them. If they exhibit some positive attributes, acknowledge them. If your boss says something positive, then you should lift that shield and deflect the praise to your team.

Now that you have worked out that you need to deflect the praise sent in your direction, you need to work out how to praise and reward your team. So how do you let your team know you value them and what they do, you pay attention to them.

I am not talking about paying attention to what they are doing, what they said they would be doing and aren’t. I am talking about paying attention to them.

If you give someone one minute of undivided attention, you can change their day. Do it dependably, and you can change their life.

As a new boss, you are often stuck thinking about all the things you need to be doing, you are not really paying attention to them. You are trying to understand how what they are saying or doing affects you and the team’s performance. You have stopped paying attention to them.

Attention is a way of giving praise. Many would say, this is the ultimate gift. Common praise is just an assembly of words and platitudes. Attention, undivided attention, comes from the most valuable of resources — time and is assembled through genuine care and commitment.

The best thing about giving your staff attention in those initial days in the job, is you learn more about them. Be genuinely curious, work out what they enjoy doing inside and outside of work. Identify how they will need to be supported to get the work done, work out how you’ll need to challenge them to strive to get better. All these things can be done in these moments of genuine and undivided attention.

So, when you are new in the job, you understand that you earned none of the praise. As time progresses, you need to remember to continue giving it away. You need to deflect it if you receive it and develop a deep well for giving it. That well comes from your attention, not your words.

The best leaders will make you feel like you are the only person in the room when they listen to you. The only person with anything important to say. This is the most valuable thing they have to give you, their time and undivided attention.

Stop, Forget, Deflect

So, as you make the transition from contributor to manager. Remember that you have just stepped on to the next learning ladder. What you have learned, and been recognised for to get you to this point, will not help you that much in your next journey. Sure, there will be moments of comprehension and assistance from your built-up expertise and knowledge. But on the whole, it will not be the thing that makes you successful.

You need to stop trying to be amazing at doing everything, stop trying to tweak and adjust everything to feel like you are contributing, and start deflecting all praise from outside your team and gifting it by paying genuine attention to your team members.

If you can nail these three things in the transition from star contributor, to first-level manager, you can start your path to being a great boss and leader.

Stay safe and keep smiling,


How To Get Unstuck: A 5-Minute Fix

I am a writer with a passion for leadership, growth and personal development. I try and create a spark, a little idea that nests inside and kindles your aspirations.

2 thoughts on “The first three things you need to do when you get promoted to leadership”

Comments are closed.