2 months ago

new leaders often feel overwhelmed

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The plight of New leaders

New leaders often feel overwhelmed because firms mistakenly treat leadership as if it’s the same as management. But Management and Leadership are not the same thing. The plight of new leaders is a common emotion which in psychology is expressed as Imposter Syndrome – the feeling one has no right to be in a (new) position of authority. Why should anyone listen to me? What right do I have to lead people?

That Imposter Syndrome for this reason is common is both sad and understandable. It’s also relatively easy to overcome. That it’s not is not only sad, but both a failure of (higher) leadership and missed opportunity to increase competitive opportunity.

Instead of talking it through with someone (say, an Executive Coach or a trusted ally), many who suffer from Imposter Syndrome internalise the fear. The unfortunate by-product is often an exhibition of one or more undesirable traits. We’ve all experienced leaders who have one or more of the following characteristics:

Who hasn’t experienced a leader who displays one for more of these characteristics?

  • Doesn’t understand you;
  • Knows the answers to everything;
  • Corrects people mid-sentence;
  • Continuously reminds people that they have the final say;
  • Boasts about how successful they are;
  • Becomes offended by suggestions meant to help resolve issues or meet timeframes;
  • Takes the previous experience of others as a bias that makes them unfit to help resolve current issues; 
  • Demands unrealistic deadlines, regardless of any logical evidence;
  • Is constantly annoyed because projects always over budget and late.

Of course, the above isn’t an exhaustive list.

One of the biggest problems is the sheer number of companies that provide little to zero assistance for newly promoted leaders, often because they perceive Leadership and Management as one and the same, just at different pay scales.

In our work with companies, a commonly cited reason for lack of help for new leaders is the belief that leaders are born, not made; in effect, the belief is that you can’t teach leadership. This you either have it or you don’t mentality is not just unhelpful, it means companies entrust the efficacy and efficiency of leadership to hope and happenstance, akin to using star signs to select good leaders.

The trouble is, there is no scientific evidence that hope is effective. There is, however, evidence that leadership can be successfully taught. A rich academic literature on the subject exists, that dates back hundreds of years; although many business schools focus on academic contributions from the 1950s onwards – a rich enough source in its own right. 

Investing in leadership training and coaching is a wise step for any company serious about becoming, and remaining, successful.

Management and Leadership are not the same thing

That Managers and Leaders are the same is a misconception that pervades many organisations. There are sound reasons why people get confused. First, as discussed above, people aren’t taught the difference, so firms rely on an individual’s ability to somehow acquire knowledge or muddle through without it. 

Second, some functions of leadership and management overlap. That two different professional substrates share common characteristics should be uncontroversial. People in Marketing produce presentations, as do Sales teams for new client pitches. This ability to produce content using presentation tools does not confer marketing ability on a salesperson or vice versa.

Third is a form of rationalisation fallacy: he’s a bright guy, he’ll work it out. We can spend the money elsewhere, where it’s really needed. Here, the assumption that spending money elsewhere would be a better use, is a logical fallacy because without Leadership education, the likelihood of poor leadership and judgement increases, effectively introducing an unknown disruptive variable quantity into a complex system. Often, this is met with a statement that if the newly enobled leader doesn’t perform they can be stripped of ermine and sent packing, with a more suitable replacement recruited in their stead.

This argument neglects the costs of onboarding (a type of delay cost). It takes months for a new leader to be properly effective – they have to learn the political landscape, the machinations of the organisation, the layout of different organisational substrata, how their team operates, etc. To then repeat this process because the leader isn’t up to the task is a cost  that can run to several hundreds of thousands.

Now, assume you hire an Executive Coach at £2,500 one day a week for six months, plus spend £25,000 on executive training (e.g. Oxford University’s Diploma in Organisational Leadership). That’s a grand total of  around £90,000 the result of which is an effective, confident, productive leader; no longer the new leader who often feels overwhelmed but, instead, a resource that increases value to the bottom line.

Fourth, the collective noun used for management and leadership is often “management” or “leadership”. This false linguistic equivalence creates a false logical equivalence that’s difficult to disentangle, yet people understand there is a difference even if they don’t understand what it is. Again, the confusion helps create the situation where new leaders often feel overwhelmed. 

Fifth, leaders need to know about more than just leadership. For instance, if a company adopts a new methodology for organisational change, such as Agile, it’s important leaders understand what it means in leadership terms. For example, when adopted correctly, Agile will, inter-alia, impact project delivery, finance models, procurement processes, Human Resources, team structures, job roles, and project reporting. Without explaining Agile benefits in ways that make sense to leaders and executives, the leader may continue to feel overwhelmed, even anxious, with the danger they reject productivity gains the new methodology was adopted for in favour of something psychologically “safe”.

Finally, there are key differences in what managers and leaders actually do. In essence, Managers are more about day-to-day strategy implementation, whereas leaders set and adjust strategy. A manager needs to understand which parts do what, to measure how progress, and to inform leadership if things drift from the plan. In contrast, Leaders need to know the course to set, when to adjust it, and who to use to achieve the goal. Managers communicate at a more detailed level. Leaders have to sell visions, not only of corporate direction and policy, but also personal growth for managers and team members alike.  One way to distill the difference is to think of it like this:

  • Management is about outcomes and control; whereas
  • Leadership is about relationships, change, and persuasion
Hence, leadership can exist on multiple planes and isn’t hierarchical, even though leaders may exist in a hierarchy. Hierarchies belong to the managerial.

There are many other differences, but if you grasp the one’s above you’ll be driving in the right direction to make, and keep, your company competitive; at least, from a leadership perspective.

Key Takeaways

Here is a list of key points covered in this article:

  • New Leaders often feel overwhelmed, suffer from Imposter Syndrome, and make up for it with poor focus and decision making;
  • Leadership can be taught and, therefore, can be learnt;
  • Investing money in executive education makes economic sense;
  • Management and Leadership are different beasts – the former is hierarchical and concerned with outcomes achieved by control, the latter is about relationships, with goals achieved through persuasion and is the most effective of the two for change;
  • Lack of investment in new leaders is a form of lack of investment in your company;
  • Coaching new leaders is an important tool in the corporate toolbox;
  • Language matters. Conflating management with leadership leads to problems;
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