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Do You Want to Be a Leader,
or Do You Just
Want a Raise?

Challenging Thinking Series

Challenging Thinking is a series of Think Pieces—essays, videos, and other content—that ask and answer bold questions about leadership. While the leadership-related topics vary widely, each piece will inspire novel thinking.
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How many people are accepting and taking on leadership jobs without a true understanding of just how significant a role it really is?

By Verity Creedy

I regularly commute two hours into a London office, time that many don’t relish but I’ve grown to enjoy. The main reason I enjoy it is that it allows me to take time to reflect on the day ahead, absorb myself in a book or article, shamelessly people watch, or sometimes, engage in all three.

Below is a summary of an exchange between two men in business suits, whom I’ll call Grey Tie and Blue Tie, that I overheard recently on the evening train home:

Grey Tie: How did your meeting with your boss go?
Blue Tie: Yeah, not bad actually. I asked for that pay increase.
Grey Tie: What did he say? Are they going to give it to you?
Blue Tie: Not straightaway. He wants me to take on a new role in the new financial year, and they will start the pay raise then.
Grey Tie: That’s cool, what’s the role?
Blue Tie: I’ll basically have the rest of the team reporting to me. It’s four people.
Grey Tie: Oh, wow, so you’ll be a team leader? What do you think about that?
Blue Tie: I think it’ll be all right. Don’t really know what it means, if I’m honest. But if it gets me that pay raise, then I’ll do it.
Grey Tie: Yeah, I get that.

Thinking Points - Do You Want to Be a Leader, or Do You Just Want a Raise?Having worked in leadership assessment and development for DDI for 11 years, this exchange brought me out in a sweat. I wanted to shuffle over to the seat opposite Blue Tie, explain to him what people leadership entails, and implore him to think about whether he is really motivated to step into this leadership role. I also wanted to get the phone number for his boss, so I could ask him why on earth he was offering a team member a leadership role without fully sharing the implications of such responsibility.

Fortunately, my judgement kicked in and I didn’t overwhelm these poor gents with what I was thinking and what I wanted to do. Instead, I spent the rest of the journey considering some troubling questions.

How often does this exchange, or one similar to it, take place on commuter trains, not just in London, but all over the world?

How many people are going home and telling their parents, significant others, and friends about the pay increase they are getting, and all they have to do for it is “be a leader”?

How many people are accepting and taking on leadership jobs without a true understanding of just how significant a role it really is?

As I thought about these questions, I concluded that such uncertain exchanges, fuelled by widespread ambiguity about leadership expectations, are probably more common than I could imagine. And this conclusion terrified me.

I contemplated what would I say to Mr. Blue Tie, Mrs. Blue Tie, and all the other global Blue Ties excited for their pay increases with awareness of their absolute ignorance as to what it means. I would say: wake up! Leadership is a huge responsibility. In a leadership role, you impact team effectiveness, morale, and, therefore, company profitability. As a leader, you may be the difference between members of your team going home buzzing about how great their jobs are, or crying about their horrendous days.

What does it really mean to be a leader?

Some thoughts about what it means to be a leader:

  • You are the frame and not the photo. As a leader, your team should be the ones to shine, and you have a responsibility to develop them.
  • It’s likely your fault if a team member leaves. The primary reason people resign is because of their boss. Retention of talent is on your head.
  • No one cares if you were a high performer in your previous role. Leadership will likely require a whole set of fresh skills, many of which require dedicated practice.
  • At times, you’re going to feel lonely. Your peers may now be your direct reports and you cannot engage with them in the same way you used to.

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I don’t want to spread fear about leadership. Far from it; I want to provide guidance on what the Blue Ties of the world can do to be successful leaders.

How can individuals prepare to make their step up to leadership a success? I believe it entails the following:

1. Helping your direct reports excel.

Once you become a leader, you need to achieve your goals via your team members’ work, which means the best compliment you can receive is that your direct reports are surpassing expectations. When your team shines, you shine.

This is a significant mindset change, as it often means subordinating your ego or personal recognition in favor of others'. The development of others is now proportionate to, or even greater than, your own development—not only to satisfy your direct reports’ needs, but also to have a high-performing team that can respond effectively to ever-changing work demands. In practical terms, developing your team members means:

  • Identifying the skills, knowledge, or abilities that are strengths or growth areas for each team member. Ensure that development opportunities solve a company problem, accomplish a team goal, and support the individual’s personal needs.
  • Planning how to support direct reports in obtaining the necessary skills, knowledge, or abilities. Consider how to use a combination of development approaches, both formal and informal.
  • Helping direct reports apply their new skills, knowledge, or ability in role. A leader does this by providing encouragement and feedback throughout.

2. Holding onto your talent.

The cost of hiring a new team member is significant, as it can include advertising fees, recruitment process costs, and other expenses as well as the time needed to upskill the new hire. For many organizations, therefore, losing key talent can have a hugely detrimental effect on progress and profit. Gallup research shows that managers account for up to 70 percent variance in engagement, and one in two people state that they “left their job to get away from their manager.” However you look at it, leaders make an impact on people’s happiness in the workplace.

How you treat your team is essential, of course (see point 3 below), but actively working to engage your talent will reduce turnover risk. As a leader, you can increase employee engagement and retention by addressing three areas that get to the heart of what really matters to your team, and asking the right questions to confirm your efforts are paying off:

  • Meaningful work: Assist your team members in understanding how their unique role makes a difference. Do they understand the purpose of their job? Do they have access to the data and information needed to be effective? Are they empowered to contribute?
  • Positive environment: Show the team they work in a great place. Is the team demonstrating respect for the contributions of others? Is the team collaborating for group goals? Is there confidence that the team will treat each other fairly?
  • Individual value: Appreciate and encourage team members. Are you supporting your direct reports? Are you acknowledging their efforts?

3. Embracing a new set of skills.

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One of the most common pitfalls organizations fall into is promoting great technical experts into leadership roles and assuming they will automatically be successful. Leadership is not a technical role on steroids! It requires a completely fresh set of behaviors.

More specifically, in these stressful times of volatility, uncertainty, and complexity, exceptional interaction skills are required to show direct reports they are valued and respected. Many of these behaviors tend to not feel natural, and new leaders are very rarely versed in all of them. So, like all skills, practice is required for perfection.

At DDI we refer to the critical leadership behaviors as the Key Principles:

  • Maintain or enhance self-esteem: When things haven’t gone as well as someone might have planned, you need to maintain that person’s self-esteem. Equally, when someone has done a good job, you want to enhance that person’s self-esteem.
  • Listen and respond with empathy: Show team members you understand the facts and feelings associated with a situation. This may entail empathizing with positive emotions or defusing negative ones.
  • Ask for help and encourage involvement: Seek the ideas and opinions of team members by defaulting to the question, “What would you do?” rather than stating “Here is what I would do...”
  • Share thoughts, feelings, and rationale: As appropriate, disclose reasons behind a decision or change. Offer up your perspective on the decision or change, building trust by being honest.
  • Provide support without removing responsibility: Help others think and do, resisting the temptation to take over by keeping responsibility where it belongs.

4. Finding new friends.

Many newly promoted leaders begin managing people who used to be their peers and friends. Now they are party to information they can’t always share, and they must evaluate the performance of those individuals. For this reason, leadership can feel lonely, and building a new network is crucial for success. Identifying a new group of peers is important, as you’ll need to have go-to people with whom you can freely discuss upcoming changes or business challenges. In addition, peer mentoring is an incredibly valuable development activity for both new and well-established leaders. Here are four easy steps to building this indispensable network:

  • Identify who can help: Look inside and outside of your organization for people who can help you be more successful in your leadership role. Perhaps they can help you acquire information or expertise. Or maybe they can coach you on essential leadership behaviors.
  • Reach out: Once you’ve identified whom you might want to approach for mentoring, plan what you will you say and do to make a positive introduction and establish a personal connection.
  • Ask for help: Consider, specifically, what you would like them to help you with, and seek their support in a way that makes the connection reciprocally valuable.
  • Maintain the relationship: This is the networking step most commonly missed. To keep the network alive and healthy, you should proactively provide information and support to your new connections. Among effective ways to stay in touch are to forward them useful articles and connect them to other helpful people.

Do you get a pay raise when you become a leader? Yes, more often than not, accepting a people leader role means a bump in pay. But from what I’ve shared here, you can see why the monetary incentive exists—because I believe that you really need to be slightly crazy to want to lead others.

You need to be passionate, selfless, tenacious, and thoughtful. You need to understand that from that moment on, everything you say and do is viewed differently by your team. You need to be okay with that reality. More than that, you need to view leadership as the great responsibility it is.

Now… Raise your hands if you think Blue Tie would have accepted the leadership role had I shared what I’ve included here with him during that twilight commute. No, I don’t think he would have taken the job, either. I think he would have probably left his company and sought that pay raise elsewhere.

And I’m okay with that. Surely, it’s better to stride through the doors of leadership eyes wide open, than walk blindly onto a ledge.

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With that in mind, if you are on a train, plane, or bus, and hear someone say becoming a leader is just a way to get a pay raise, please give that person a link to this article or my email address. Similarly, if you are planning to encourage someone toward a leadership role in your company, reflect on whether you have appropriately briefed that person on what the role involves. Make sure you are setting people up for success with a realistic overview of their accountabilities.

I am on a mission to rid the world of lazy leadership. This is your official invitation to be a worthy sidekick (capes are optional).

Verity Creedy heads up DDI’s European sales team and is based in London. When she’s not working with clients to identify talent solutions that address their business strategic aims, Verity can be found completing half marathons, window-shopping at unusual shoe stores, and telling people about her adoration for Taylor Swift. If you have any running tips, shoe store recommendations, or Swifty news, send them to verity.creedy@ddiworld.com.

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