Going from Doer to Leader

A young professional shares four key actions for his fellow young professionals to take when transitioning to a management role.

“You’re not seeing the big picture, Matt.”

As a new manager, this was one of the most frustrating lines I could hear from my boss. I was the youngest manager at my association, having worked my way up from an entry-level position over several years. My work on the frontlines of membership led to recognition and advancement. Now I was being asked something totally different: to lead a team toward strategic goals.

If you’re only focused on today’s to-do list, you’ll run into deadlines you didn’t see coming and be unable to deliver effectively—or, worse, at all.

I needed to become a part of strategic success without losing touch with the daily work and needs of my team. To succeed, I had to take four steps that involved looking ahead, delegating to my team, improving my communication, and making the most of meetings.

Create Strategic Awareness

If you’re driving, you’re never 100 percent focused on the car in front of you. You’re also looking several cars ahead, behind you, and on both sides. You’ve created an awareness that stretches as far as your eye can reasonably see, while still not hitting the car in front of you.

Working strategically is no different: If you’re only focused on today’s to-do list, you’ll run into deadlines you didn’t see coming and be unable to deliver effectively—or, worse, at all. Strategic awareness will go a long way to developing your skills as a leader of projects and people.

To help with this, I take time once a week to review my current to-dos and at least the next month’s calendar. That 30 minutes a week has saved me hours of last-minute work and missed deadlines.

Understand Accountability Versus Responsibility

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my career is the difference between responsibility and accountability. While you must always be accountable for the work you put forward, you must also learn to delegate some of the responsibility for doing it to your team.

Your strategic awareness tells you what’s coming, so ask yourself, “Is this something only I can do?” When the answer is no, look at your team and think who might be the best person for the task. Give them realistic deadlines, make time to train them if necessary, and thank them always. You are not only freeing up time for yourself but also helping to elevate your team through exposure to new and more complex work.

Communicate as Strategically as You Think

“Is the project done yet?” is not an effective email. I think we all know that, but the increased demands on your time as you advance in your career—combined with a sometimes firehose-like stream of email—can reduce our communications to mere digital grunts and nods.

While not every message requires an essay, it’s important than when you discuss deadlines and deliverables, you make the effort to frame the impact of that work for your team to help them understand how their work fits into an organization’s larger initiative. In addition, if you’re emailing work to someone, make sure you give them the “why,” not just the “what” and “when.” This can improve morale, as well as reinforce the deadlines you’ve set and the responsibility they own.

Maximize Meetings

Holding a team meeting about a project’s status? Ask for status beforehand via email and give the entire team the whole picture. Meetings should be about collaboration, not just status updates. Taking five to 10 minutes to prep for a team meeting can both shorten the meeting and improve communication, allowing you to get to the real questions your team has about a project.

A simple tip you can put into action immediately is making a brief agenda. You know what you want discussed, so outline your questions, the topics to be covered, and give those you are meeting with time to prepare. It will shorten your meetings and make time spent together more effective.

Remember, having a “leader” mindset starts with making time to evaluate what you and your team do every day and examining how you can do it better tomorrow. Putting the actions above into practice will help you take a step back from doing and move your toward being the leader you aspire to be at your organization.

(jemastock/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Matthew Hessler, CAE

By Matthew Hessler, CAE

Matthew Hessler, CAE, is an Association Manager at SmithBucklin in Chicago. MORE

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