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3 lessons every new leader should know

January 10, 2015, 4:00 PM UTC
Dean Sally Blount
Photograph by Callie LIpkin

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. This week we ask: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time? The following answer is by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

My three tips for moving into that first big leadership role:

1.) Recognize why you were picked. It’s important to clearly understand why you were selected and what you are expected to achieve. Be explicit in negotiating these expectations with your higher ups and iterate them over the first six months. This will help as you learn more about what is happening in your unit and what you and your team need to do to be successful.

2.) Build your team. Figure out who you will keep on the current team, who you will not and make those changes. As a leader, you no longer do the work; you pick and coach the people who will. The biggest trip-up in this transition is that people keep trying to do all the work themselves. But this is exactly the time when you need to take a step back because your future success is reliant on the team that you build. Also, note that agreement on metrics and check-ins is essential both with your direct reports and key allies across the organization.

3.) Find good advisors/coaches. Build a circle of 2-3 senior people who have a stake in your success and cultivate them as one-on-one advisors. Don’t be shy about turning to them every few weeks with thorny problems. People like to help talented younger people. You may even want to consider hiring an executive coach, ideally from inside your organization. I suggest selecting two or three people (so you’re not over-relying on one person) but no more. Otherwise you may end up spending too much time managing these relationships versus doing your own work.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

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