How to prepare for the shift from being an employee to becoming a leader

As the saying goes, leaders are made, not born, meaning there’s the opportunity for almost anyone to work their way through an organisation and make the transition from employee to executive. 

Become a leaderHowever, while the opportunity is there, it’s not always an easy process or a guarantee for success. In many cases, people new to leadership roles will have to un-learn a lot of old habits and prepare to embrace a new way of looking at organisation. Sometimes, the techniques, attitudes and attributes that saw them rise through the ranks might not be effective in a senior leadership role.

It’s a situation many TEC members have been in. While they’ve encountered these situations in a diverse range of organisations and a varied array of industries, the one constant that unites them all is the need to evolve the way they approach their role.

Leadership on a bigger scale

Most people who find themselves in executive roles have had a taste of leadership roles in the past. However, while these positions often lay the groundwork for future leadership endeavours, they don’t always communicate the same sense of scale that comes with taking on a much more prominent role within an organisation.

Director of the Save Sight Institute Peter McCluskey experienced this change first hand. While Peter had experience leading a smaller team of eight professionals in a prior role, his move to director of the Save Sight Institute greatly expanded the number of people he was responsible for, resulting in him being in charge of up to 45 people.

“I look after a lot of people, a lot of students and do a lot of administration, plus working as an eye doctor, a researcher and a teacher,” Peter began. “Moving to this role was a big, big change and involved a lot of learning on the fly.”

How to make it on your own

For some new executives, the challenges of their first leadership role are compounded by the fact they’ve left the relative safety of a larger organisation behind. This is the story for the increasing number of people who leave roles to start their own businesses, an act that results in a very unique set of conditions for these new leaders to manage.

Ben Walker is an example of how to overcome these challenges. After leaving a stable role as an accountant at an established firm, Ben formed a business which he believes offers the best opportunity for him achieve his goal. Ben’s idea was to create an accountancy firm that understood the unique characteristics of family-owned small businesses, which meant taking control as a leader – something that required a lot of on-the-job learning.

“A lot of people go into business good at what they do, but not necessarily great a running a business. I’m happy to put my hand up and say that was me,” Ben explained.

“You are here as a CEO to provide strategy, guidance and empower the team, not necessarily doing it all.”

Be prepared to lead through change 

Most people will have worked for a company that has undergone or experienced a major change in the way they operate, however, leading an organisation through these same concerns is a different matter entirely.

Founder of Amicus James Kemp was tasked with leading a company through the GFC, forcing to him to evolve the business in order to keep it relevant and profitable. James believes the key is not expecting things to happen overnight, and instead focussing on a long term goal to keep the business heading in the right direction.

“One of the challenges with changing a business is that these things take time – changing strategic focus or building a high-performing team all happens slowly,” James said.

“The challenge is to keep the business ticking over and at the same time developing a long-term plan.”

Along with new challenges, transitioning into a leadership role also offers numerous opportunities for people to lead a company and impart their own direction on it.