How Young Leaders Level Up

This article originally appeared in Inc.

For young workers, moving into a leadership role is an exciting and fulfilling step, but not without its share of complications. Whether managing distractions or delivering valuable feedback, new leaders can feel overwhelmed by the demands of their new position.

As new leaders learn to level up and begin to engage their teams, it’s important not to overlook basic principles like these:

1. When you ask for advice, mean it.

Bringing others into the decision-making process is smart practice: Not only does it improve the quality of decisions, it also motivates others to stand behind those ideas and implement them.

But when leaders ask for suggestions without showing real interest, they engage in what Stanford management professor Bob Sutton calls “sham participation”–putting out a hollow call for ideas when a plan of action has already been determined.

This kind of deception wastes people’s time and erodes their trust. Once employees realize their opinions never really counted, they are likely to lose faith in their bosses and doubt their motives for even asking in the first place–leading to feelings of disappointment, confusion, and even resentment.  

To show your good intent, be upfront about the decision-making process. Manage expectations by making sure others understand what needs to be decided, how information will be collected, and who will make the ultimate call. People may not like the decision that’s reached, but they’ll respect the process behind it.

2. When you reach a decision, keep it.

Once decisions are made, it’s up to the leader to stand by them–even when they’re unpopular. The initial rollout period can be fraught with grumblings, anxiety, and setbacks, but retreating from a decision not only weakens the action–it diminishes your credibility too.

This can be especially challenging for inexperienced managers, who may feel insecure in their new roles. When faced with pushback from their team, well-meaning managers may put decisions “under review”–or in extreme cases, pull them entirely–to ease worries or win allies. 

When I’m training leadership teams, it’s the managers who maintain a calm and consistent approach that get the best results. When promises are made and kept, leaders show their team they can be trusted to follow through. If new information emerges later, decisions can always be revisited–not from worry and second thoughts, but as a result of balanced leadership and good listening.

3. When you pledge action, do it.

The old adage of “say what you mean, and mean what you say” should be heeded closely when it comes time for implementation. Making a decision is not a substitute for taking action, and the sooner ideas are put into motion, the better.

When leaders hesitate, tensions mount. People may wonder about the resources that were supposedly allocated to this project. Others may grow skeptical about the viability of the plan. Suddenly, interest and momentum are replaced by worry and hand-wringing.

Besides taking swift and deliberate action, leaders should openly communicate their intentions with others. When announcing a new decision, be sure to include a timeline for implementation and stick to those dates. You can even bring greater visibility to the project by providing status updates or team-wide demonstrations of its real-life effects.

Learning how to provide support is one of the most important skills a new leader can master. Clarity, consistency, and communication are key to getting great results–not just for your team, but for yourself, too.

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