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Executive facing decisionThese feelings come up more often than you might expect for all leaders both new and experienced.

There’s a very simple reason for it.

The natural trajectory of most careers is often a progression from being an individual contributor to leading people, contributing to strategy and influencing others. This transition from subject matter expert to leader is probably one of the hardest career shifts there is.


Because it means changing your perception of yourself.

It’s likely that for years you’ve been congratulated and encouraged and promoted based on your deep knowledge of marketing or finance or human resources. When you get your hands on a project in your area you feel great. You know exactly how to do it; what steps to take, what details to focus on and what to leave out.

Working in your area of expertise can be seductive.  Working in your comfort zone is just that – comfortable.

It’s easy to cross items off your to do list.  It’s fun to figure out a tricky problem.  It’s a real ego boost when your boss loves what you have done.

However, when we begin to make that shift from subject matter expert to a leader, it can feel like we’re starting over again.  And we can feel like we aren’t sure who we are anymore.

One great way to build confidence in this transition is to Ask for Help.

I believe that the best way to build your own leadership style is to make a commitment to lead with intention.  This means making it your explicit intention to focus on HOW you behave as a leader.  It’s about creating a balance between a leadership style that is coherent with both the culture of the company and your own values.

To begin to define your unique approach to leadership start with personal reflection:

What approaches to leadership have you most enjoyed?  Think about the qualities that you have seen from other leaders…which approaches feel natural for you to emulate?  Which approaches do you definitely want to avoid?

How do you like to engage with others?  Are you a listener?  Do you enjoy drawing ideas out of others in conversation?  Or do you prefer to set a bold vision and use your powers of persuasion to bring others along?

Think about times where you were successful.  What were you doing?   Where can you do more of that?

Write down what you see as your strengths and ask yourself how you can leverage them in your leadership role.

Reflect on what’s difficult for you.  For example, you might set very high standards and as a result find it very hard to delegate tasks to others.  Make a list of the top three challenges that you face and then look for people who are skilled in these areas.  Observe them.  If you’re comfortable, let them know what you’re working on and ask them for their feedback and advice.

The bottom line is that the transition to leadership is tough.  And fear, uncertainty and doubt will follow you around as you figure it out.

The best defence is to think intentionally about how to build on the strengths and habits that will serve you well and those that are best left behind as you grow.

When we start our careers, we learn by doing and observing.  As we progress to new levels, we have the same need to learn and observe and most importantly reflect.

To quote John Dewy “We don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.”