Congratulations, you did it! You worked hard and studied even harder, and now you have finally received the call you have been waiting for. You know the one, “You are promoted to …” Although you worked really hard for it and you prayed the phone call would come, it doesn’t stop your heart from beating faster than it should at that moment. It doesn’t stop your mind from racing with all kinds of questions, most you aren’t able to answer confidently. What’s next? Where do I go from here? Will I make the right decisions when necessary? Will I get the support that I need? What if I have to supervise ….? You may have asked yourself those questions over and over again since the phone call from the chief. The answers sound really simple; but depending on your career up to this point, it may be the most challenging thing you will ever have to do.
The overall goal is to shift your mindset and focus from team player to supervisor. Hopefully, this is something you have already considered—better yet, discussed prior to the promotion. There are critical steps that you must take to be successful in your new assignment. These steps will allow you to lead, have integrity, and gain respect all at the same time.
1. Set clear expectations. Immediately meet with your new subordinates and set clear and defined expectations. Also, be sure to set appropriate boundaries. The most effective method of delivery is to write your expectations and post them. Be totally transparent with everyone. The higher you go in rank, write your expectations, and have the other party sign them.
2. Lead by example vs “Do as I say and not as I do.” To show you have integrity and are a great leader, you must be the example you want your subordinates to follow. Be the example even when no one is looking! Allow your words and actions to be the examples. Others will follow your footsteps easier than they will your advice. In today’s society, it is difficult to be an effective leader if you are just giving lip service. The younger generation is not afraid to challenge your every word. If you are barking out orders, you had better be able and willing to do the task as well. I believe leading by example is your responsibility! In fact, you will hear me repeat often in my presentations the tagline: “It starts from the top; lead by example.
3. Be consistently consistent. Ensure no one can mistake your actions or decisions as favoritism or bias because you treat everyone the same. Being consistent also speaks to your integrity. How many times have you witnessed or been a victim of a boss or leader who was not consistent in his/her actions or message? What message did it send to you, your coworkers, or your agency? No one wants a leader who blows like the wind!
4. Be a good communicator. Say what you mean and mean what you say. This is a skill that needs to be practiced. The more you practice, the better you will become. Being a good communicator includes how you speak, as well as how you interact with others verbally and nonverbally. It also deals with how well you listen to others. This subject is often overlooked or spoken about in such general terms that people miss it. It’s the reason we end up with leaders and bosses who have absolutely no respect. It’s the reason we often refer to them as having absolutely no interpersonal skills. A good communicator comes, first, from a place of self-awareness. A good communicator also takes the time to understand the person to whom he/she is speaking. Finally, a good communicator is always mindful of the message being communicated—whether that message is clear, concise, specific, positive, and respectful.
5. Be a great servant. If you are not fit to serve, you will not be fit to lead. You have to be able to get down and get your hands dirty. Your subordinates will respect you more if they see you are not just barking out orders that you do not follow. They will also respect you more when they see you serve someone else. Let go of your pride! A quote by Ken Blanchard is the best way I have found to describe servant leadership: “Servant leadership is all about making the goals clear and then rolling your sleeves up and doing whatever it takes to help people win. In that situation, they don’t work for you: you work for them.”
6. Be competent in your craft. Although I have listed this point at the end, of course, I am in no way suggesting that you put less energy into it. It goes without saying that you have to know your job to be an effective leader. You must ensure that you not only know the rules, guidelines, and procedures but also ensure that YOU follow them. Other characteristics I believe effective leaders should possess to become competent in their craft include the following: having a positive vision, being able to admit when you are wrong, expressing gratitude, talk less and ask more questions, remain calm, and take action. The great Nelson Mandela once said, “Do not judge me by my successes; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Imagine if we operated in this way, imagine if we weren’t afraid to fail? It is in the failure where the lesson is learned and, more importantly, where true strength is born.
If you begin to work on these six steps and then expand from there, you will become the leader everyone will be talking about years after you have retired. You will create an environment where people want to come to work and give their all. You will have the integrity and respect so many leaders have tried to obtain but failed because they did not think interpersonal skills were associated with their leadership skills. I submit to you, if you do not the interpersonal skills discussed in this article, it will be pretty hard for you to earn and keep the respect you so earnestly desire.
Tiffanye S. Wesley is a Fire/EMS Captain II with the Arlington County (VA) Fire Department. She is the first African American female to be promoted in the department’s 71-year history. In her 23 years of service, she has served in numerous positions within the department. The most notable positions were a Nationally Certified Bomb Technician and Bomb Commander, Station Commander for the largest and busiest firehouse in Arlington, and Acting Fire/EMS Battalion Chief from December 2016-June 2017. She was featured in a short video on You Tube titled, “Breaking the glass ceiling” by a Georgetown University graduate student; was a presenter at FDIC International; and was featured in a book anthology with the “Big Money Speaker” James Malinchak, titled Reach YOUR Greatness, Top Thought-Leaders Share Their Secrets for Living an Extraordinary Life, as well as in a book anthology and documentary titled No More Chins