Today’s knowledge-based economy means most organizations are packed full of experts: risk experts, legal experts, market experts, finance experts, project management experts, and so on. Many of these experts are women who are driven to get the job done and let the results speak for themselves.
But such expertise can be a surprising limitation when it comes to promotion time. That’s because taking on a leadership role often means having to manage people who know more than you do—a change that can cause experts to stumble as they transition into leadership positions.
To thrive in this transition, here are five key lessons to consider.
1. Recognize That the Reasons for Your Success Have Changed
Instead of seeing yourself as the problem solver, see yourself as the enabler for others to execute and solve problems. To help, shift from being detail-orientated to being focused more on strategic and commercial questions. Also, to help your team, aim to develop an internal network broader than those you work with every day.
2. Trust Others
Trusting is a requirement, but it comes with risks. You will not always get it right, and there will be missteps. Try to anticipate where these might happen. When they occur, do what you can to correct them and warn people who will be affected. Resilience around reasonable mistakes is part of the non-expert mindset. That said, it's never a good idea to repeat the same mistake.
Let others do the work, even if it takes them longer to complete it. Bear in mind that the cost of their time to the organization is less than the cost of your time, even if you can do it faster. Stress is created by circling around and around, trying to cover multiple topics and tasks at the same time. Stop and zero in on one thing. Get it done, put it aside, and move to the next thing. Think to yourself: If I only had one hour, what would I do? Then do it for an hour.
4. Let Go of Perfectionism
Unlike an expert, who is often tasked to take as much time as necessary to arrive at the “right” answer, the non-expert leader must ask, “Is this worth my time? How much more effort should I devote to this one thing?” Keep in mind that perfect is expensive. Is the work you’re stuck on worth this much of your time to your company?
Letting others do the work when you can do the job yourself can be difficult for smart people known for knowing, executing, and fixing everything in their way. Instead, as a leader you must not only learn to make decisions, you must also forgive yourself when a decision turns out to be less than perfect. As one woman recently told me, “I have decided to be kinder to me. It may not be perfect, but it's really good given the time available to make a decision.”
5. Get Comfortable With Ambiguity
Experts strive to have all the facts and know all the details. As a non-expert leader, your team may have the facts, but you will not. Decisions are rarely based on just facts. Learning to live with ambiguity is key.
Focus on what you can control and note but do not stress over what you cannot control. Aim to listen and synthesize the key elements from all opinions around you. Start with a first step, regardless what you know or don't know. Take it, then re-evaluate as you take the next one. Curiosity about what’s happening and why is easier to manage than panic, so get curious—and get going!
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Wanda Wallace, Ph.D., advises corporations on how to retain senior women and minorities and coaches executives on how to get ahead. She is president and CEO of Leadership Forum Inc. and the Host of Out of the Comfort Zone on Voice America radio network. Follow her at @AskWanda.
This article was originally published on Working Mother. It has been republished here with permission.
Photo of manager courtesy of Musketeer/Getty Images.
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