K&P leadership series: Challenging the process

Sep 14, 2021

This is the third article of our seven-part K&P leadership series. Missed the previous article on inspiring a shared vision? Read it here.

You were just promoted to your first management position. Congratulations! Now comes your opportunity to emulate the qualities you appreciated in your previous managers, and maybe avoid the qualities you didn't admire. Either way, you are excited about the opportunities ahead, and hopefully, you recognize that you have big shoes to fill.

As a new manager, you want to help your organization succeed, and you want to have a positive effect on the work life of the people you manage. To achieve these two goals, you need to focus on your own development first. Regardless of whether you were promoted to a position within or outside your specialty area, stepping into a management role comes with unique challenges.

Promotions within expertise area

If you were promoted within your specialty area, it will be easy to understand your team's daily work and expectations. As a new manager, your challenge is that perhaps you know too much. Because you earned a promotion, it means you were likely good at your previous job. However, everyone on your team may not necessarily have the ability or desire to do things the way you did them. And, at some time in the future, you will no longer be the subject matter expert you once were. In your management role, you need to become a coach, rather than a micromanager—a quality you disliked in your previous managers.

Promotions outside expertise area

If you earned your first management position outside your area of expertise, maybe in a team you partnered with, you have an additional challenge. You need to consider all the points that come with promotions within your expertise area, plus learn about and participate in this new specialty culture. Do you understand the team's vocabulary and its inside jokes? What does the team expect from the boss? And what makes this particular team tick?

Challenge the process

Regardless of whether you've been promoted to a position inside or outside your expertise area, you'll need to focus on becoming a good leader for your team, especially if you're new to management. Here's the magic of embracing the Kouzes and Posner Leadership Challenge (K&P)—the five behaviors can make anyone a great leader. If you are a first-time manager, the most important K&P behavior is “Challenge the Process,” which means examining your daily actions and assumptions—the things you do out of habit or without thinking.

Stepping into management should create a big change in your daily work. Don't miss the opportunity to identify the values and actions you need to keep with you from your previous position, while also being open to the knowledge and skills you need to develop in your new role. Challenging the process, particularly by searching for opportunities and experimenting and taking risks, is a key behavior to adopt as you transition into your management role.

Search for opportunities

Leaders should always go first and serve as a model for their teams, especially when it comes to growth and improvement. Answer the following three questions about yourself. After you have personal clarity, ask the team the same challenging questions to understand what it needs from you to be successful.

  1. What are my goals and why? Identify your internal motivation for this particular job. Shift your thinking from being “rewarded” to being “rewarding.” Being a coach means understanding the heart and the mind—for yourself and your team members.
  2. How do I assure that I'm fulfilling my responsibility as a manager? Strive for balance between establishing a predictable daily routine and dedicating time to focus on the future and your long-term strategic goals. Too much dedication to either focus will bring you less success, because you can get stuck in a daily rut with no direction, or you can dream too much about the future while current work fails. Both are important, so don't ignore either one.
  3. Who should I look to for guidance? Look outside of yourself for feedback, ideas and changes in the world. K&P calls this “outsight.” Seek input from employees, customers, suppliers and other managers. Innovation comes from combining an outside idea with your internal knowledge, and then doing something that seems routine in a completely new way.

Experiment and take risks

Learning what works best for you, your style, your new team, and the current environment requires experimenting and taking risks. Here are some ways you can experiment and take risks in your new role as a manager.

  1. Test the opportunities you identified. You should have some successes and some failures. If you take small steps, the wins may be small, but so will the failures.
  2. Debrief after each test. Be honest about what worked, what you learned, and how you would do it differently next time. Be intentional in setting your goals, developing your experiment and evaluating the outcome.
  3. Embrace failure. The best way to know if you are truly “challenging your process” is to have some failures. We often learn more from our mistakes than from being successful on the first try. If you don't experience failure, you might not have stretched far enough or taken full advantage of your opportunities.

Becoming a first-time manager is often the most exciting and biggest learning step in your career. The excitement will fade quickly, though, if you keep wearing the same shoes you wore in the past. Managers who become great leaders try on new shoes, with different styles, until they find the pair that fits them best.

Be on the lookout for next article in the K&P series, which will address how to “Enable Others to Act.”