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4 guidelines for new leaders

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You’ve now got the staff to do the work you once did yourself, but you’ve been a workhorse for so long that you don’t know how to steer the team. These four steps will help you:

  1. Provide direction. It’s that “vision thing.” Talk with your customers every week, find out how you can make their world better, communicate it relentlessly to your staff and make sure they live, eat and breathe that mission.
  2. Showcase your values. In a one room shop, people know the right way from the wrong way by picking up on the leader’s cues. When the organization grows, more decisions bring conflicting priorities. Leaders have to set values, answering the questions “What’s important?” and “How should trade-offs be settled?” Example: The CEO of a software company became known for shipping products of dubious quality to make his quarterly numbers. He announced to a room of grateful employees that, going forward, quality was the top priority. Two weeks later, he approved a shipment of defective goods to hit a market opportunity. His actions undercut his words.
  3. Be consistent with both direction and values. Nimble organizations change direction just ahead of their markets, but people can burn out if they experience too little stability and too many hours on the job. The good news is that values rarely change. The bad news is that consistent direction in a changing market requires thought.

    Example: An architectural firm whose vision is “We design the world’s best postmodern auditoriums” invites trouble when postmodern becomes passé. “We design physical spaces to help unite communities” provides stronger direction.
  4. Connect strongly with people. You don’t have to be out there giving them back rubs, but you do need to give your people trust and freedom. Spend time understanding what they’re good at, give them the chance to make it pay off for the organization and arrange moments for them to shine.

— Adapted from “Making the jump from workhorse to leader,” Stever Robbins, Boston Business Journal.

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