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The lessons of leadership

John Mielke is the president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.

By John Mielke

People began sending me advice about how to make the transition shortly after the announcement that I had been promoted to president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.

I only have been in the position for a month, so I have not used all of the advice. But it’s already clear that some of these tips could form a how-to guide for those assuming positions of leadership.

First, let go of your previous position and adjust your thinking to your new job. I created a list of the major responsibilities in my job description and then made sure whatever I worked on matched something on the list.

The list also prevented me from reverting to my old job. When things get tough, it’s natural to want go back to a comfort zone. But the paradox of being promoted is the skills needed to succeed in the new position probably are different than the skills that made you successful in your previous job.

As new leaders develop those new skills, they are tempted to avoid situations in which they risk looking bad. They fear failure will be seen by others as a sign of weakness.

This is a mistake. High-stakes situations are an opportunity to learn and demonstrate leadership. Those feelings of pressure and stress are indicators that you are operating at the right level. If it was easy, anyone could do it.

Speaking of mistakes, understand they will happen. And understand they will show others it’s OK to take risks. Owning mistakes and correcting them, rather than hiding or blaming, sets the right example.

And don’t doubt for a minute that people closely watch how a new leader reacts to missteps and successes.

How you approach your new leadership position will set the pace and expectations for others. Constantly appearing frantic and overwhelmed will create an atmosphere of chaos and confusion. Responding to challenges with poise builds confidence among co-workers in your ability and in their own.

What you say is more important, too. It’s easy to have an opinion when you are not responsible for the results. Leaders don’t have that luxury. When there is no pressure to be right, or consequence for being wrong, the risks of being outspoken are low.

Many successfully have met the challenge of leadership. Some of those people were kind enough to provide me with guidance.

A promotion is a chance to make a contribution, and leaders need to quickly reach that point where they become a net contributor rather than a net consumer to the organization.

I’m still learning, but I hope to hit that break-even point sooner rather than later.

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