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4 Big Challenges New Leaders Have to Overcome

Nicole Fallon

Accepting your first real "leadership" position is an exciting, but intimidating, time. All business leaders were once in your shoes: They realized, at one time or another, that instead of following directions, they would be able to give directions, too — and that's not always an easy transition to make.

"A first-time leadership job is very stressful," said Richard Wellins, senior vice president of HR consulting firm Development Dimensions International (DDI) and co-author of "Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others" (Wiley, 2015). "There's a significant change in roles and responsibilities. Success comes not from what you do ... but from what you do to grow and develop others."

Wellins noted that this is a shift many leaders have difficulty making, since organizations often promote individuals based on their technical competencies, rather than their leadership skills. Here are a few of the challenges you'll face as you undergo this job transition, and how to best overcome them.

Changing dynamics with colleagues

If you've spent some time in a non-leadership position at your company and are suddenly promoted, a lot of things about your job are going to change. Yes, your responsibilities and daily work will be different, but your relationship with your co-workers -- especially those on your immediate team -- will no longer be defined as "peers."

"It's a difficult transition because your identity [among] your peers and colleagues changes," Wellins said. "You have to shift and identify as a leader."

Changing from co-worker to boss doesn't mean you can't still be friendly with one another, and it certainly doesn't mean you should abuse your newfound power. However, just keep in mind that there may be a period of adjustment to earn the respect of your team as an authority figure rather than an equal-level employee.

Being a 'teacher'

One key component of shifting into a new dynamic with your colleagues is the role you'll need to play as a teacher. Diane Omdahl, president and co-founder of Medicare consultation firm 65 Incorporated, said that when she first stepped into a leadership position, she realized there were many opportunities for "teaching moments." The challenge, however, is knowing how and when to teach others, especially if there's a conflict that must be addressed.

"As a first-time leader, you're in a position you're unfamiliar with," Omdahl told Business News Daily. "You might feel like you're overstepping your boundaries when you have to confront a co-worker on an issue. But, just because you're in a leadership position doesn't mean you need to change your attitude or how you approach your work."

Omdahl also noted that new leaders can learn to become effective motivators when they lead and teach by example.

"Employees feed off of that — leaders who lead by example cultivate the next generation of great leaders," she said.

Making hiring decisions

Leaders have the important responsibility of being involved in the hiring process for their team. If you've never had to hire someone before, you're likely in for a big shock when it comes time to bring in a new employee — Beau Hale,president and co-founder of ad technology firm AdBoom Group, said that most first-time leaders don't realize the amount of effort that goes into a hiring decision.

"Often times, inexperienced leaders don't realize that it takes extensive knowledge and the right research to hire the right people for the right role," Hale said. "Many make decisions upon face value of the applicant. This usually results in a stressful dilemma where they have an employee dragging the business down and then the employee ultimately has to be let go."

A tiered interview process, in which multiple employees such as a human resources manager and another company leader speak with the candidate, can help guide a new leader through a first hire and teach him or her how to best evaluate applicants. 

Learning the difference between leading and managing

Though leadership and management both involve overseeing a team of workers, there is a distinct difference between the two, and first-time leaders may not always realize it. They may

feel that, if they are accomplishing their goals and hitting their budgets, they are successfully leading, said Steve Parker, vice president of customer success and business transformation at employee recognition company Achievers. But leaders need to inspire their team, share purpose and provide direction, not just manage the budget.

"Have a clear vision aligned with the company's mission and purpose, and constantly communicate the vision and how your people are contributing," Parker said. "Catch them doing things that contribute to accomplishing your vision, and visibly recognize them for it, because what gets recognized gets repeated by others."

For more tips on navigating your first leadership position, visit this Business News Daily article

Image Credit: balein/Shutterstock
Nicole Fallon Member
Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.