6 Ways to Flip Your Leadership Script

Excerpt from “Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders” by William A. Gentry, Ph.D. (from the Center for Creative Leadership).

Firsts. There are many “firsts” in our lives. First date. First kiss. First concert. First car. First album or CD (or MP3) you bought and listened to. First time leaving home. First time “with” someone, if you catch my meaning. First heartbreak. First child’s birth.

Here’s another “first”: your promotion into your first managerial role, the first formal leadership position you’ve ever had. All you’ve known in your career is work, work, work. And you were crushing it. The reward? You’re a boss for the first time in your life.

Having that “supervisor,” “manager,” or “director” title, or something similar, looks good on your business card doesn’t it? You should feel proud—it’s a big deal. And as a new leader, you probably hope to be a great boss, a boss everyone wants to work for.

The Price of Being an Ineffective New Leader

New leaders must do something much more substantial, and frankly, much more different than anything they’ve ever done before in their professional careers. It’s probably why so many are struggling, even failing in their new gigs as bosses. And the numbers would back these stories too. Consider the following findings over the last decade:

  • 82 percent of front-line leaders (where many new leaders are in organizations) are not rated as “excellent” in skills and capabilities as leaders.
  • 80 percent of front-line leaders are dissatisfied with the job they are doing as leaders, and 70 percent of senior managers agree.
  • 40 percent of newly promoted leaders fail within the first 18 months.
  • 50 percent of managers are labeled as incompetent, a disappointment, a wrong hire, or a complete failure by their coworkers.

Organizations are promoting those who have never led before into important leadership roles at entry- and first-level positions on the front lines mostly due to their skill, subject matter expertise, and excellent performance. And the numbers say what many of us know first-hand: New leaders on the front lines are struggling, and it’s hurting the people around them, their productivity, and their engagement. Poor front-line leadership is the reason engagement programs are ineffective, and employees feel unhappy, uninspired, and less empowered. Upward of 60 percent or more report a loss of engagement, productivity, and turnover when there is poor front-line leadership and, in fact, 1 out of 4 organizations report a loss of profit due to poor, ineffective, front-line leaders.

Almost 60 percent of new leaders get no training when they step up into leadership. So many want to be the type of boss everyone wants to work for, but aren’t prepared. I believe you can truly be the boss everyone wants to work for, if you are willing to Flip Your Script.

Flip Your Script So You Won’t Flop as a Boss

We all have scripts in our lives. In your own life, you write your own script and live your life based on what your script says about the various roles you have: Parent. Child. Partner. Spouse. Sibling. Community activist.

Your script helps you understand who you are and how to live. Scripts help us understand our roles and our purpose. At work, you definitely live by a script. Oddly enough, the script of a successful individual contributor reminds me a lot of that old break-up line many of us have used —or like me, heard—all-too-often when someone’s about to get dumped. You know the one: “It’s not you. It’s me.” That’s where all the attention is: on “me.”

So what does that break-up line have to do with the script of an individual contributor? It’s all about “me, myself, and I” as an individual contributor. That “me” mentality is at the heart of the script of individual contributors, technical experts, and professionals everywhere. And we’ve been living this script ever since we can remember, even as kids, to get ahead, to get attention, to outshine everyone.

To be a successful leader of people, you must be willing to shed the “individual contributor” role that got you the promotion to leadership in the first place and stop shining the spotlight on “me, myself, and I.” You must want to flip, truly believe that you can flip, and be 100 percent committed to flip your script and realize, “It’s not about me anymore.”

Six Ways to Flip Your Script

Flipping your script is a huge idea, a big deal. It goes against every normal and natural instinct you may have. It’s so different than everything that has made you successful up to this point in your career. But leading others is so different than anything you’ve ever done before.

Six parts of your script to flip to be the boss everyone wants to work for:

  1. Flip Your Mindset. You’ll realize how to avoid derailing at such an early point in your career (and later in life, too).
  2. Flip Your Skillset. Individual contributors rely on their technical skill to do their job and get ahead. But many new leaders struggle because (a) they rely too much on technical skills, which are clearly not needed as a boss, or, (b) they were never told what skills they needed to be successful leaders in the first place.
  3. Flip Your Relationships. As a new leader, your relationships are different. For instance, your former peers—some possibly being your friends—now report directly to you. Plus, you actually lead a staff or a team of people.
  4. Flip Your “Do-It-All” Attitude. To be the boss everyone wants to work for, it’s not about doing all the work anymore. As a boss, you’ll flip your script in the way you define, think about, and conduct work, which includes developing others.
  5. Flip Your Perspective. Individual contributors usually have a narrow view on the organization. As a new leader, flip your perspective and expand your view. This will help you understand what “politics” really is. Plus, you’ll gain the awareness and ability to navigate the politics inherent in your organization through your political savvy.
  6. Flip Your Focus. New leaders must understand that their actions and decisions can have repercussions far beyond themselves. So flip your focus. You’ll appreciate the importance of integrity, character, and doing the “right” thing now and as you climb up the organizational ladder.

Excerpt from “Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders” by William A. Gentry, Ph.D., from the Center for Creative Leadership. To read more on this subject and purchase the book, visit: http://solutions.ccl.org/Be-the-Boss-Everyone-Wants-to-Work-For.

William A. Gentry, Ph.D., is the director of Leadership Insights and Analytics, and senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). He also trains the Assessment Certification Workshop and Maximizing Your Leadership Potential programs at CCL and has been an adjunct professor at several colleges and universities, currently at Guilford College and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In applying his research into practice, Gentry’s current focus is on helping new leaders who are managing for the first time in their lives, particularly those on the front lines in entry- and first-level positions in organizations. Gentry has published more than 40 peer-reviewed articles on leadership and organizational psychology. Follow Gentry and CCL on Twitter (@Lead_Better and @CCLdotORG) and use #BeTheBossBook to take part in the conversation online about first-time managers and new leaders. 

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