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Leadership Fundamentals: Surviving Your First Year as a People Leader

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There is a never-ending supply of advice on leadership success. For example, if you search for leadership books on Amazon, you’re presented with over 60,000 results. With so much information available at the push of a button, it can be difficult to know exactly which leadership topics you need to learn to survive and even thrive as a first-time manager or supervisor

Leadership success is built on a handful of key fundamental leadership skills. These basics become the solid foundation on which your entire leadership journey is built. Of course, as you are promoted into senior leadership roles, the skills needed will change. Still, the leadership fundamentals you acquired as a new manager will always be part of your leadership toolkit, and as such, it will serve you well to develop them early on in your leadership career.

In fact, the importance of mastering the fundamentals of leadership is highlighted in one survey, which found that 44% of new leaders said they were unprepared for their first year as a people leader, and 87% wished they had more training before they started.

To mitigate the stress and lack of preparation many new people leaders feel, here are the 5 reasons you will want to build these fundamental leadership skills.


What Are The 5 fundamental Leadership Skills?

  1. Effective communication
  2. Motivating others
  3. Responding to pressure
  4. Managing team dynamics
  5. Time management

What are the fundamentals of leadership - Niagara Institute (1)

Are you a first-time supervisor or manager? If so, you need to read this  comprehensive guide.


effective communication 

As a first-time manager, you will find yourself in many different situations that require strong communication skills. From one-on-one meetings with employees to leading team huddles and delivering presentations to large groups, what once was an important skill to develop is now critical.

A fundamental of leadership is how clearly you can communicate your ideas, articulate your vision, and concisely deliver constructive feedback. You’ll also need to be a great listener, one who can ask probing questions to understand the situation before problem-solving to craft an intentional response.


Motivating others

Having a team of enthusiastic and engaged people can make all the difference in your first year as a new leader. Of course, there will be complexities outside of your control, such as company policies and the nature of your work, but don’t be discouraged. It has been found that you, as your employee’s direct leader, have the greatest direct impact on how engaged an employee is. Here are 3 ways you can motivate your team to drive their engagement, productivity, and performance.

  1. Take an interest in each team member - Having focused time with each employee, typically during a check-in meeting, is incredibly important as it gives you a chance to show that you support them and want to see them succeed. During this time, provide coaching and feedback, co-create a development plan for them, and work together to solve problems they’re struggling with. As a study conducted by McKinsey found, showing a sincere interest in those around you as a leader is one of the top qualities of effective leadership.

  2. Give them responsibility - It may be hard at first to let go of control, but if you want to survive your first year of people leadership and have a team of happy, engaged employees, you must. Delegating work and assigning accountabilities builds trust with your team and frees up your time to focus on management activities only you can do.

  3. Show your appreciation - Employees want a team leader that thanks them and recognizes their contributions. In fact, 40% of employees said they would put more effort and energy into their work if their leader recognized them more often. Therefore, you should actively seek opportunities to show your employees your appreciation in the first year of leadership and beyond.


responding to pressure

One of the biggest transitions from individual contributor to people leader is now being the one everyone goes to with the expectation of solving problems and always having the right answer, even in stressful, pressure-packed situations. In the book, The Power of Pressure, Dane Jensen, the author and partner of Niagara Institute, explains that “pressure is found in our response to a situation, not the situation itself.” As a new leader, developing the skills to positively channel the energy derived from pressure-packed situations to ensure sound judgment and clear decision-making will benefit you in your first year and throughout your career.


managing team dynamics

Being part of a team is very different from being the one managing it. Differing personalities, opinions, beliefs, working styles, and levels of commitment can make it difficult for new managers and supervisors to build positive team dynamics. The statistics back this up, with only 26% of employees agreeing that they feel their team works seamlessly together.

A leadership skill that will serve you well throughout your career is how to lead a team. Team leadership requires the ability, skills, and willingness to manage and promote the following:

  1. Positive and intentional team culture - How the team interacts and the behaviors they demonstrate come together to form the team culture, or in other words, how things are done on the team. If left to chance, the culture can become something no one wants to be a part of. Therefore, team leaders must be intentional with the behaviors they want to see on their team and lead by example by demonstrating those behaviors.

  2. Collaboration - Any new team leader should focus on how your team works together and engages with others outside of the team to meet deadlines and achieve goals. This is because how well a team collaborates can be the difference between lackluster or exceptional team performance.

  3. Team vision and goals - To inspire and align your team towards a common goal, you’re going to need to create and cast a compelling team vision. This is new for any first-time people leader and, therefore, can be easily overlooked. However, a team’s vision, objective, and goals act as a north star, which the team aligns towards and focuses on.


time management

As a new leader, your team, peers, and senior leaders will pull you in many directions. As a result, your time must be managed as a sacred resource. As one New York Times author said, “Prioritize the people and projects that matter, and it won’t matter how long it takes.” As a new leader, you must prioritize requests, avoid feeling pressure to take it all on, and, above all, learn how to say no. Learning how to take control of your day to maximize your productivity while reducing the likelihood of burnout is a skill many leaders wish they had in their first year as people leaders.


conclusion: building leadership fundamentals is your secret to leadership success

Becoming a people leader should be an achievement you’re proud of. You’ve worked hard to advance your career. However, stepping up to this new challenge does not need to be as hard as it is for many new leaders. Building the fundamentals of leadership will be your secret to reduced stress, burnout and hopefully, a productive team that propels your leadership success. To develop leadership fundamentals, seek out a program designed for new leaders, like the one offered by Niagara Institute.

The Guide for First Time Supervisors and Managers