So, you finally earned the promotion you dreamed about.  Because of the skill set you developed and your ability to achieve and exceed your targets consistently, you’ve just been promoted to a leadership role!

You’re thrilled with the idea of advancing your career – until reality hits!  After a few weeks, you’re spending all your time dealing with “people issues”, endlessly managing your email inbox and seem to be forever stuck in meetings.    worst of all, you now never get to use any of the technical skills you spent years perfecting.

This is what many new leaders feel like – especially if they’re an internal promotion!

It doesn’t always have to be like this though.  I spent some time with someone who has made the transition from colleague to leader and asked him why he took the leap, along with how to make sure you have the right skills for the role.

If you’ve been wondering if there is a “right” time to step up into leadership, have a read.

I’m talking to Robert Kerrison, a Team Leader with the Australian Institute of Business.  Robert spent 6 years as a valued team member, before accepting an internal promotion into a Leadership role.

Robert, you’d been a high performer in you role for quite a few years, so what made you decide to move to a leadership role?

Leadership was always a long term goal. A leadership role in the organisation where I loved working became available and the chance to challenge myself with a great team, along with building my professional profile, brand and skills offered me an opportunity I absolutely had to apply for. It presented me with the chance to step up in an organisation where I knew the environment, processes, product and culture, which seemed ideal for my first leadership role.

What skills did you have that helped you decide you were ready for leadership and how did you develop them?

Over recent years I had thrown myself into further study with the intent of progressing professionally. I finished several qualifications, the last being my MBA, and this in particular helped me develop skills which I knew would help me tackle a leadership role.

An ability to build close and effective professional relationships has always been a strength of mine along with strong goal setting, sticking to a plan and demonstrating resilience. 

Even though I had been identified in some circumstances as being an unofficial leader, I wouldn’t say I felt ready. It happened quickly and was almost a sink or swim type situation!  Within and outside the organisation I work for I was extremely fortunate to have a strong support network of mentors and leaders who were instrumental in my development. They helped round out my skills and provided support when I stepped into the role.

I imagine it could be quite daunting being a colleague one day and a leader to the same group the next!  What challenges did you have leading a group of people who were previously your colleagues?

Initially I would say my own confidence in leading was my biggest challenge.  

When you’re with a group and follower within the group for so many years you contribute strongly, however it doesn’t necessarily translate to strong leadership straight away. You have to build a new way of working with them, developing trust and earning their respect – in some ways it is more challenging having history with them.

On the flip side, what were the benefits of leading a group of people you knew well?

After finding my feet and settling into a rhythm the major benefit is definitely the rapport you’ve previously built and relationship you have (albeit changing slightly).

I’m a firm believer that regardless of title or role, being authentic and genuine are key attributes, and set you up for an honest and transparent relationship. Being true to yourself is even more important if your team already know you – they’ll see through you pretty quickly otherwise!  this approach builds trust, which is super important.

“You won’t get what you want until your staff get what they need.”

What have you learned about leadership that you wished you knew before starting in a leadership role?

We hear all about people first and absolutely this is the first thing as leaders we need to think of.  There are always going to be goals, targets, challenged and change mandates that will be present however I’ve learnt to think about the journey your team or staff are on and bring them with you.. it’s a work in progress!

If you had your chance over, what would you do differently?

A great question! Honestly, I don’t think I would do anything differently, as there have been some extraordinarily difficult challenges, wins and lessons I’ve learnt along the way. On reflection, all your experiences whether positive or negative lead you to a present state.  

Growth should be constant and there are always going to be opportunities to learn, I realise that I’ve only really touched the surface on hopefully an exciting future in leadership, with lots of development opportunities along the way.   

As you can see, there are things you can do to make the transition from colleague to leader simpler.

Robert spent time identifying what skills he would need, and then put a long term plan in place to close those skill gaps.  Over a period of around 4 years, he undertook a Diploma, an Advanced Diploma and then a Master in Business Administration.  Since then, he has also completed a Cert IV in Training and Assessment.  By doing this, he gained recognition for his technical skills,  then stepped up his knowledge with the MBA which developed strategic and critical thinking skills – both crucial for a leadership role.

I’m happy to share that Robert undertook his MBA at the same place I did – the Australian Institute of Business, and it’s amazing to see how his commitment to development lead him to a new role. 

Many thanks to Robert Kerrison for sharing his knowledge and experience.


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