I’ve been officially in a leadership capacity at my credit union for almost two years. During this time I have determined that there isn’t a single book, training class, manual or how-to-video that can prepare you for the transition from being someone’s peer to being their boss or better yet becoming someone’s peer who used to be your boss.
Someone should have warned me that my new fancy title didn’t entitle me to people’s respect. That they wouldn’t just wake up the next day and start taking me seriously. That it would be pretty lonely at times, taxing of my emotions, and make me question if I was actually cut out to be in a role that I have sought for so long. If you are currently in this position or have the possibility of being in it one day, let me offer you some hope and also a few lessons I’ve learned that might make your transition into leadership a little easier.
You’re Not Friends
I was told many times that I wouldn’t be able to be “friends” with my employees anymore when I became their boss. For some reason I thought I’d just be the exception to this rule. It would be fine, right? After all these were people I’ve worked with for years. We always have a good time and me being “in charge” certainly wouldn’t change that dynamic at all. I was dead wrong and so are you if you think you can do it and be a fair and effective leader. I’m not saying you can’t be friendly. I’m saying that you can’t hang out on the weekends, post pictures of it on social media, and then expect anyone to take you seriously. This dynamic might be different if you didn’t transition from peer to boss. I can’t speak to that. What I can tell you is that you have to have a level of separation for it to work and unfortunately it’s your responsibility to draw that line in the sand and it sucks.
Find a Mentor
This one came a little easier for me but without this person I’d probably have quit. Being in leadership comes with this entirely new bundle of stress and challenges that I wasn’t expecting. My mentor has frequently pulled me back in off the ledge, been my therapist, cheerleader, given great advice and has turned into a great friend. In looking for a mentor you need to look for someone who has been where you are, with more experience than you have, and that is willing to teach you and build a mutually beneficial relationship. It doesn’t have to be someone you work with, but I’ve found it helps.
Be a Mentor
One of your responsibilities as a leader is to help others around you reach their potential. There is no better way to do that then to find a person that is where you have been and help them. I am where I am today because someone saw something in me. They invested in me. And now it’s my turn to pass that down to someone else. If you’re a leader and you’re not actively mentoring someone, I’d encourage you to. It’s very rewarding watching someone succeed and knowing you helped them get there.
Ask for Help
Listen, you can’t do everything. You’re not going to be perfect all the time. This is not something that is easy for me to comprehend let alone admit. Giving off the impression that you’ve got it all together all the time is impossible. And I’ve found that it really isn’t expected. It’s actually expected as a “manager” that you can delegate tasks. I’m not good at this part. I fail at it repeatedly actually. That old saying, If you want it done right, do it yourself…doesn’t apply anymore. I’ll give you a moment to sit back and just take that one in.
I urge you to ask for help. If you’re like me and definitely want something a certain way, you’re going to have to learn how to effectively communicate that desire to the person that you’re going to let do it for you. Learning to let go and let others do it has not been easy. I don’t know if it ever will be. But you will literally go crazy if you don’t.
As a new leader in an organization I’ve found the best way to earn respect, show people what you’re made of, and make a name for yourself is to volunteer to do the projects that no one else wants. Let me go ahead and warn you, it’s not going to be fun stuff. But if all of the documents need to be updated to match your new style guide, or if piles upon piles of files need to be scanned and turned into electronic files, or if the toilets at the homeless shelter need to be cleaned…do it. Showing your reliability in these things will lead to bigger and better opportunities for you to show your stuff. It may even turn into new and more responsibilities. Besides, it’s just good experience to get to do a lot of different things and being that you’re just starting out on your pathway to leadership it will only make you stronger in the end.
That’s it my friends. It’s been a long and sometimes arduous journey. But I love it. As much as I wasn’t expecting a lot of things I’ve had to learn, it really is one of the most rewarding moves I’ve made in my career and I’m happy to be in it.
Are you a leader? Do you want to be one and have questions? Share your experience, advice, and questions in the comments section below.
Amy Etheridge lives in Warner Robins, Georgia. She is the Electronic Senior Marketing Coordinator at Robins Federal Credit Union. Amy started her credit union career 12 years ago as a teller, has worked in branch operations, and then found her calling in the marketing department.