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Navigating the Challenges of Leadership

As you've no doubt have already experienced, a mere change of your title does not automatically bring you new power, privilege, or respect. Creating new working relationships with your manager and your former and current peers depends in large part on how they perceive you—and that depends on how you see yourself. You bring into this relationship any history you have had with your colleagues.

Read through the list below and check the items that are currently a challenge for you:

Managing Expectations
Knowing what is expected of you and conscientiously working to manage and meet those
expectations greatly affects your success.

Establishing Credibility
Credibility is based in part on your past experiences and expertise. What leadership
experiences have you had? What management, communication, or interpersonal skills
courses have you taken? What leadership behavior have you exhibited? What technical skills
do you possess? Remember: you got your current opportunity because people saw good
things in you.

Balancing Technical and Leadership Expertise
Your current career requires a new set of skills. You now are no longer responsible for
producing—now you accomplish more and more things with and through other people. Your
success is no longer measured by what you alone accomplish but by the accomplishments of
your staff.

Finding Your Rewards in Different Places
Many administrative leaders faced with new challenges do not experience the same sense of
achievement they did before they assumed leadership responsibilities. A lot of what you will
do every day is not measurable in the same way as it was before. If you do not have a sense
of achievement, you will begin to question your contribution and success.

Managing Time—Yours and Your Staff’s
Not only are you relying on your staff to get things done, you are relying on their efficient
use of time. Their meeting deadlines or giving you information on time affects your own
time management. Also, the demands you place on them affect their time management.

Managing Change
Nothing is as pervasive as change. As an administrative leader, you will need to support and
implement change.

Getting Employees to Take Risks, Take Action, Get Results
Taking risks yourself is the key ingredient for getting your staff to be creative. Make it all
right to make mistakes as long as you learn something from them

Pitfalls to Avoid
In addition to being faced with organizational challenges, your personal internal issues and concerns can present pitfalls you must learn to avoid, such as:
  • Being too involved with your staff’s work. Many administrative leaders believe they must monitor the progress of their staff, help make decisions, and provide continual guidance. Some also allow their staff to bring their work issues to them; the leader then becomes the worker. This is called “reverse delegation” and must be avoided.
  • Negative attitude about change. Leaders are messengers of change and need to provide guidance and support to make transitions easier. If you fear change, that fear will be passed on to your staff.
  • Trying to please everyone. Leadership is not a popularity contest. Employees have their own agendas. They bring their differences to the workplace and, if they are vocal enough, everyone knows what pleases or displeases them. Often administrative leaders give in to that kind of pressure and try to keep staffers happy. This, of course, creates a no-win situation.
  • Misjudging or grabbing power. Staff, colleagues, and upper management give you power by allowing you to influence their way of thinking. To do so, you need to develop ways of working effectively with others. Trying to control a situation or misuse power may work in the short run, but it won’t work for long.
  •  Misjudging a problem. Many administrative leaders believe their major role is to solve problems. Many also believe that a problem presents them with the chance to be a hero. Therefore, they misjudge a problem’s relative importance.
  • Expecting too much, too soon from yourself, management, staff. Moving mountains should not be on your Action Item list. If you are a new administrative leader, you must be patient with yourself, give yourself time to accomplish your goals. You must also be patient with upper management, your peers, and your staff as they make the transition and begin to see you in a new way.
  • Discussing your predecessor or other leaders. In an effort to establish their own credibility, new leaders will discuss their predecessors and other administrative professionals in negative terms. When you get the attention of your staff, it’s important to speak about moving forward rather than rehashing the past.
  • Trying to maintain relationships exactly as they were. It’s important for new leaders to be ready to let go of some friendships and work through bad relationships with former peers.
  • Believing that the new title will make a difference. People will not automatically listen simply because you are in charge. You must be ready to earn their respect.
  • Inconsistency. Leaders need to be consistent in the way they make decisions, solve problems, and interact with staff.
  • Rescuing. Sometimes staff members will expect you to make everything better for them. They want you to change things or get a colleague to behave differently. They want you to do magic. This trap can cause a new administrative leader considerable difficulty.

Action Steps: What will you do to get your leadership role started on the right track and keep it there?
1. Consider how you can shift the balance away from management and more and increasingly into a leadership position.
–– With whom do you need to discuss the differentiation of leadership from management?
–– Based on the distinctions we developed, in which areas of your position do you want to review and possibly change your contribution?

2. Experience different leadership styles.
–– Which leadership style do you tend to use most frequently?
–– With whom will you discuss alternative leadership strategies?
–– How will you use your awareness of directive, interactive, and hands-off leadership styles at work?

3. Examine your readiness to take the lead and the obstacles that you face.
–– What specific steps will you take to increase your readiness to lead?
–– What are your greatest challenges? How can you overcome them? From whom will you seek help?
–– How can you avoid the pitfalls of new administrative leaders?

© American Management Association. All rights reserved.
Adapted from Stepping Up to Leadership: A Course for Administrative Professionals.

About the Author(s)

Shari Lifland is Editorial Communications Manager for American Management Association.  She is editor of the eNewsletters "Moving Ahead," "Management Update," and "Administrative Excellence," and manages content for the Members-only section of AMA's Website.