The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

Last month I was working with a team of senior leaders exploring their leadership brand and ways to create and foster Limitless Teams within their organisation. When delving into their brand, we looked back to where their journey had begun, and this led to the discussion of the times when they promoted to a leadership position from within the team in which they were already working.

Seven out of the thirteen leaders, including myself, had at some time, been through this experience, one easily labelled as challenging. Transitioning from being part of a team to then being empowered and entrusted to lead that very team, can be a daunting and unsettling experience. It can also be one of the most empowering opportunities if handled and approached in the right way.

We discussed how we could create an identity shift from being “in” the team to now “leading” the team. What surprised me was that four of the seven leaders had simply had an email announcement of their new role sent out and on the Monday their titles were changed and they “slipped” into the role. When I asked how that turned out, the response was it had been a lot of hard work and back peddling and had created unnecessary noise in what should have been an exciting time of transition and opportunity.

If you really have your own identity, you’ll keep on doing what you think is really right for you , and you’ll also understand the next step you want to take. – Helmut Lang

Leadership is not a position or a title, it is a choice, and I believe we need to communicate this, especially in times of transition. If we don’t take the time to do this, we face the dilemma of our new team still associating us with our old identity of being in the team. Your identity changes as you change and so many people expect it to shift all by itself, which of course it does not. We need to be proactive here and look at ways to shift the perception of you to being the one that adds even more value to the team, not just the way it used to be with the things you used to do when in the team.

Update your reference points

It's a bit like last week. I stopped off to get fish and Chips, rare for me as I love cooking, but it was a Friday night and after a big week of travelling my husband and I ran in and grabbed a seafood pack each. I heard a man, a few years older than me; say, “I can’t believe it costs $75 to bloody feed my family fish and chips. It was only $15 for the whole family when I was growing up.” This is a great example of someone who is still referring to an experience with the same identity and perception of it, probably from 30 years ago. Times have changed, food prices have gone through the roof, and I can almost guarantee this guy will say the same thing every time he gets his Friday night fish and chip fix. As times change and other variables move, we need to update our reference point and beliefs around what and why we think the way we do.

When taking on the responsibility of leadership, the actual process of going into this new uncharted territory is a brilliant opportunity to clean what is dirty, refresh what is working and bring in new fresh ideas and ways of thinking.

A few ways to shift your identity of being “in” the team to “on” the team:

  • As soon as your role is official map out a date for a team catch up. Do this as soon as possible!
  • Design an interactive session and communicate you are there to add value and more of what you all wanted when you were “in” the team.
  • Workshop what is working and how you can continue to collaborate on the success so far.
  • Map out what isn’t working and get each team member to take ownership and accountability of key actions from this.
  • Ask for feedback on you! Yes, you. Ask what they like that you do and what you could change or do differently in this new role.
  • Lock in a one-hour, 1:1 session with each member of your team per month. Even if remote, you can do this by phone or Skype! No excuses!
  • Have a key focus each session and coach rather than tell during these sessions. The time is on your team members chosen focus, not about you. A great opportunity to catch people out doing things well, provide feedback and ensure no surprises along the way!
  • Reinforce you will keep the lines of communication open and will keep the team updated on topline organisational objectives and things relevant to them. This will also increase strategic agility within the team.
  • Foster inclusivity and ensure you focus on everyone consistently, not just those you were closer to when in the team.
  • Find out the top three strengths of each individual and ensure you leverage these and allow them to leverage each other to build a strengths-based team.

Create a balanced leadership…

Above all, ensure you are creating balanced leadership by leading your new team, managing activity and taking time to develop your leadership by working on you. By doing this, you will be giving yourself the best chance to lead and not drown in the overwhelm of managing a team. I always say to my clients “If you left your role tomorrow, what have you done that was different than before?”

Work with your team, and on your team and in turn, they will identify more deeply with you and what you do. They will see you as adding value not only to them but also for the organisation as a whole.

Be limitless.