E90 - How to move from Expert to Team Leader

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How we do leadership can change over time, as we (hopefully) mature and develop. These shifts are not always easy and can be quite confronting! The most challenging transition is going from expert to manager. When we get promoted because we are technically good at our job and then discover that managing others is a whole new ball game.

  • What happens when how we see the world completely changes

  • What kinds of things can trigger a stage transition

  • The 3 skills to keep in mind as you move through a stage transition




This is the easiest introduction to developmental leadership theory.

Listen to an earlier podcast on leadership maturity with Dr Maja Stanojevic Andre.


Zoë Routh:         Hi it's Zoe, and this is episode 90 of the Zoe Routh Leadership podcast. Today we're talking about what happens when we get promoted from star of the team to captain of the team. You know that huge career progress when we get elevated to the echelons of management and we discover it's a totally different landscape, so let's get into it.

Speaker 2:          Welcome to the Zoe Routh Leadership podcast, your source of strategies and insights to make you a better leader. Influence, improve, inspire.

Zoë Routh:         In my work I follow developmental leadership theory, so it's also known by a bunch of different names including integral leadership theory and I'll post some notes for you if you want to take a deep dive into integral leadership theory and what it all means and where it comes from, in the show notes at zoerouth.com/podcast/experttoachiever.

Zoë Routh:         That's what we're talking about today. It's a critical leadership transition. Now I should give you a little bit of background on what this actually means. In the integral leadership development model its core premise is that as adults we continue to grow and evolve. Who knew? We don't just reach 18 and go on a static plateau. We can actually grow and evolve, and specifically our values can change, our perspective can change, and how we act in the world can change.

Zoë Routh:         There's been a lot of research by the likes of Bill Torbert and Clare Graves, and Ken Wilber about these different stages of leadership maturity, as they're called. Each one has a particular set of values, and as a collective known as a world view, and it effects how we operate as leaders. One of the most familiar ones that you can identify readily for yourself is that when we start out on our careers we build a huge base of knowledge, whether let's say we're a lawyer and we're learning how to be a lawyer and we get five, six, seven, eight years under our belt, and then we are asked to take on more responsibility because we've been so successful in our area of expertise. Typically that means being promoted to a management role.

Zoë Routh:         We've seen it and heard it all before where people get promoted to beyond their ability. It's because the abilities that you need to be an expert in any subject matter are completely different than the abilities you need to manage a team. When you go from being star, a super star, an expert into the captain of the team it's a totally different ballgame so to speak. What happens during that transition and what do we need to pay attention to and how can we manage it better? This is particularly relevant for me at the moment as I'm putting together a program called high achievers and I'm taking a deep dive into this conundrum. Because it is pretty challenging when new managers get appointed, they find themselves floundering a little bit because they work out all of a sudden that, whereas 80% of their work used to be them on their own. Their new work is 80% of the time dealing with other people's problems. It's a totally different kettle of fish. They work out that a lot of their job is around people.

Zoë Routh:         Often there's this wistful longing for the days when they could just come into work, do their own thing, and leave at the end of the day. Not be troubled by anyone else or any other problems except for their own. Well, it's time to pony up because the world of management and its next step into leadership is a totally different world and it has different considerations. This is a pretty significant leadership maturity change and it's very destabilising and very confronting.

Zoë Routh:         Now, do you ever remember a time when you've been told something and your whole view of the world changed? One of the first things I can remember is when I found out that Santa Claus wasn't real. Now part of me kind of figured it wasn't real because it kind of didn't make sense, it seemed a little bit far fetched, but you want to believe as a five year old that this big fat man in a red suit comes down the chimney and leaves you lots of gifts. There's plenty of evidence that that was the truth. They ate the cookies, they drank the sherry, and there was a ton of presents under the tree. That was my world anyway. When I asked the question of my parents late at night going home after a family gathering, everybody else in the car was asleep except for my dad and mom. Dad was driving, mom was in the front, and I said, "Is Santa real?" They said, "No, Santa is not real but don't tell your brother and sister," who are younger.

Zoë Routh:         That changed how I saw myself as the role of elder sibling responsible to maintain this fantasy for my brother and sister for a little bit longer, and also what it meant to be an adult and how adults hold different truths and what was this thing about Santa Claus anyway? It forever changed how I saw the world. I could not go back to that time again ever. How about this incident? This was another example where my world completely turned on a dime. These aren't leadership development experiences, but they are examples that can come to us when we're going through our day to day lives.

Zoë Routh:         Well this one, when I was working at summer camp I was madly in love with my best friend Gary. He was absolutely gorgeous, and for years I thought maybe one day he would be interested in me. Sadly no, despite my overt overtones he never was interested, and I found this sad. After about five years I gave up and came to the fact that it was never going to happen. Then when I moved to Australia I got this email and no word a lie, I remember reading this email scrolling down line by line by line. I thought, "This is it, this is the moment where he's going to tell me he loves me." I'm reading this email and he says, "Nice to hear, been thinking about you a lot lately." I'm like, "This is it, here comes the confession, I knew it." The next line was, "I've been wanting to tell you for a long time." And the next line was, "I'm gay." I'm like, "What?" It was the most gob smacking thing I had ever experienced. I'm like, "He's gay?" In that moment of realisation I realised it was never me, it was never me.

Zoë Routh:         I could let go of the feeling of rejection that I had. Then it was a sense of despair, it will never be me because he was never going to be interested. That was sad as well. It was liberating and sad at the same time. I had to look back on the 15 years of friendship and wonder about that, and wonder about his world and his life that he was living through that he had to hide so much of himself in how he showed up. I was sad for him around that. My whole view of our friendship and who he was changed. It was a more authentic friendship as a result of that. Again, that piece of information, that new perspective changed how I saw and perceived and translated the world, at least when it came to my friend Gary.

Zoë Routh:         Where does this happen in leadership experiences? Well when we're talking about the transition from expert into team leader or achiever stage as it's known in integral theory, sometimes we get a piece of feedback that shifts our perspective. I was thinking about a client recently who got some feedback that the way that she communicated was condescending to others. She was shocked and horrified. She never had the intention to be condescending or patronizing, it was just not ever her intention to do that and it was troublesome to her that other people would see her in a different way than she saw herself. This was the moment of realisation that people see me differently than how I see myself. It's not such a radical thought when you think about it, but if you've never been aware of the fact that other people can see you differently than the way that you see yourself, this is a radical transformation opportunity. It means that you start to see that other people see the world, not just you, but the world through different lenses.

Zoë Routh:         This is very troubling because we come to the world at this stage, of expert stage, thinking the world is black and white. We know what's real, we see it through our own eyes, we make an interpretation, and therefore that is the truth. When we receive a piece of feedback, say like my client did, that shatters that illusion that there is not one truth, that there are multiple truths, and the way that I see things is different to other people see things. The earth kind of shakes a little bit underneath you. It's like, "Well how do I know how people are perceiving me if the way I'm coming across doesn't work?" We start to seek out ways of understanding the world and understanding people so that we can kind of find a common territory or common map, I should say, of the territory. Because the way that we were reading the territory isn't the only way that it can be read.

Zoë Routh:         There are really three things that we can work on when we're facing this transition, from expert into manager in particular, or even at later stages of leadership maturity these three things can serve us well. The first one is to manage our emotions, and that sounds pretty basic and yet it requires a lot of effort and focus and discipline to do. Managing our emotions is first becoming aware that A, we have them and B, that we don't have to let them drive our life. I think this is one of the key things in leadership maturity is once we realise that emotions happen to us they are not us, then this is big opportunity for calming the crap down and being able to be more effective in our world. I remember getting this letter from my boss at summer camp. In it was the end of camp feedback, which is a terrible way to deliver feedback, just in a letter.

Zoë Routh:         In any case got this letter with my feedback for the summer and it said, "You're very passionate about your work." I'm like, "Yes, I loved my work. I loved the people I worked with." He goes, "And sometimes you got too emotional about issues." I'm like, "What? How could he say such a thing? What does he mean by being too emotional?" Then I realised I was being emotional. I was like oh, that's what he meant. I was reactive. I let all the little stories push my buttons and they would drive all my reactions, all of my interactions, and that they were the filter that created meaning, no matter what happened. I didn't step back and think about things. Even when he was presenting a rational discussion, I would just respond with emotion. As new leaders we can often be trapped with this. We can let our buttons be pressed and we let that deliver our response. We don't press pause and go, "Hmm, I'm having an emotional reaction to this situation, or this comment, or this story. What does this mean? How did it get this way? How can I deal with it? How can I let this emotion pass so that I can deal with the issue more constructively?"

Zoë Routh:         That's really what managing emotions is and that's really the key point to emotional intelligence. It's often one of the first things that we need to learn when we move from expert to captain of the team, to expert, to leading a team is becoming aware of our emotions because we are a lot more trigger happy than we give ourselves credit for? Learning to take our emotions and putting them in the passenger seat rather than the drivers seat is one of the most critical things that we can learn at this stage of the game and keep doing throughout all stages of the leadership game.

Zoë Routh:         The second piece is to explore perspective. Just like my client was shattered to discover that other people might find her condescending, we need to get curious about how other people see the world and experience the world. There's lots of different tools to help us do that that you might have gone through yourself. For example, any of the profiling instrument tools such as DISC, or Myers-Briggs, or TMS. These are all instruments that help us lay out patterns of how people see the world and engage the world. When we do these types of profiling instruments with clients I find that they're intrigued. They find them fascinating because A it gives us insight into how we see the world and what our patterns are, and then also how other people see it and therefore where we have synergy and also where we have conflict. When we can see the patterns are the source of the conflict instead of personality, it makes it so much easier to unplug the emotions and actually be more compassionate, be more approachable, be more influential because we can meet others where they're at.

Zoë Routh:         Exploring perspectives is pretty critical and we can do that through profiling instruments, we can do that by simply being curious and asking people what they think about things. Being open and ready to change our own awareness and our own perspective by incorporating other people's perspective into what we see as the truth on the matter.

Zoë Routh:         Now the third thing that we can do to help us grow into captain of the team is to learn how to exert influence and not power. This is a pretty interesting one because when we do get authority we think that leadership is authority. Now I have the power to make decisions and tell people what to do. Yes, it's the very immature leader that does that, and it's only by doing it once or twice where you get the pushback you realise that's not the way to do things. Exerting influence means being curious about other people, it means thinking about your message, how your message will land, how other people might interpret that. Framing your message or your request in a way that invites people to play with you instead of commands them to. There's a whole set of skillset mastery that's important to learn how to do in order to do this well.

Zoë Routh:         There you have it, managing emotions, exploring perspective, and exerting influence in a way that's inclusive. Those are the three things that we need to pay attention to as we're moving from expert, being a star, into being an achiever, so a captain of the team. If you noticed in sport there's been a lot of commentary lately that the best captains are not the stars of the team. It's a bit of a paradox because what happens if we just let the stars carry on the same way, as they were as stars as they are as captains, they don't necessarily play nice. In order to become a captain we need to dial down our stardom and realise that we need to bring out the stardom in all the other people around us. In sports often it's the average player that is the best kind of captain because what they're doing is they're focusing on how they can be of service to the entire team, all of the team members, to make them all perform better.

Zoë Routh:         As opposed to the star mentality, which has always been about how can I do better, how can I produce better results? Completely different mindset, completely different approach, and in a work context this is the big transition that people need to manage. It's less about you and your body of knowledge and more about how you can elevate others, how you can release their potential to operate together as a team. What can you do to facilitate the systems, the process by which the players come together to produce results? Very different set of skills and a very different set of priorities.

Zoë Routh:         All right, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you have managed the transition to expert to achiever, or whether you're still in that ballgame and the things that you're finding troubling. Reach out to me at zoe@innercompass.com. I'd love to hear from you. In the meantime, live well lead well.


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