9 easy steps to becoming a kick-ass leader

Updated: Apr 25, 2018

Congratulations! You’ve been promoted. Whether you’ve gone from individual contributor to team leader or from team leader to having an even broader span of control, one thing is for sure – what got you here will not get you to the next level.

Being a leader is great in so many ways – more power and autonomy, the ability to have impact, more recognition and responsibility, opportunities for advancement, not to mention increased compensation. You’ve arrived -- give yourself a big pat on the back, take a bow, raise a glass... Okay, now it’s time to get down to business and be real.

What got you here will not get you to the next level

Your next step is extremely critical. Those who skip it risk taking a huge face plant and then slinking back to the realm of individual contributor. This crucial step is to consciously promote yourself in your own mind. You ARE the boss now and if you want to be more than just a boss -- if you want to be a kick-ass leader -- you'll need to take some very intentional steps. (I use "kick-ass" in only the most positive way! Kick-ass leaders are serious about results and respectful of the people who work with them.) When you're a kick-ass leader, you know that you decide what gets done and how it gets done. You know your team is looking to you for direction and you take that responsibility seriously. When you're a kick-ass leader, quite simply, you step up and lead.

Those who skip this step risk taking a huge face plant.

Many managers just take the title and don't grow or evolve -- if that's your aspiration, then stop reading now. If you, on the other hand, aspire to be a kick-ass leader who creates positive impact, exceeds expectations and has employees clambering to be on your team, keep reading.

Here are 9 easy steps to being a kick-ass manager:

  1. Hire the right people – if you’ve inherited a team, make sure that you have the right people in the right positions and make sure they are clear on their roles, have the right skills to perform their jobs effectively, and are motivated to do their jobs. It’s your job to make sure their role expectations are clear to them. If there’s a mismatch in terms of experience or motivation, you’ll need to make changes. If you're building a team, be clear on what skills, experience and attitudes you need to have to be successful. Be clear on the culture you'd like to build and hire people who will help support that culture.

  2. Communicate your vision for the department and how it supports the organization as a whole – your team will be motivated if they understand and can get behind the purpose of the work. They want to know WHY they are there and know HOW they are contributing.

  3. Schedule regular staff meetings to provide updates and feedback (and do NOT cancel them!) – prioritize communicating with your team. They are the reason you are there. They are your most valuable resource. Make sure they know what’s expected of them. People are not mind readers and cannot meet expectations if they aren’t sure what they are. Put regular staff meetings on your calendar where you provide updates to your team and you receive updates from them. Also hold regular one-on-one meetings with your direct reports so that there’s a forum for discussion and guidance.

  4. Schedule regular updates with your boss – make sure your boss knows what you’re working on. Schedule time on her calendar at least once a month to provide updates, and to get decisions so that your team’s work can move forward. If your boss is short on time, make sure you’re very efficient – send agendas and reference materials ahead of time. Move through the agenda with pace. Make sure the most pressing issues are at the top of the agenda so that if your time is cut, you get the most important issues dealt with first. At the very least, provide your boss with monthly written updates on your team’s accomplishments and progress on key projects.

  5. Implement consistent processes and systems – it’s impossible to be efficient if you are constantly reinventing the wheel or allowing every team member to use their own processes in a shared work environment. Before you implement new systems, do an audit of workflow and reporting. Get feedback and pilot systems before rolling out. And once you make a decision, make sure everyone is trained on the new way of doing things. There’s nothing worse that incomplete adoption when you’ve invested in systems to increase efficiencies and people continue using old systems. Providing updates and getting feedback along the way can help your team adapt to change quicker.

  6. Train your team – a well-trained team is a powerful thing. Everyone knows what they are supposed to do and they do it consistently. They know what to do when things go wrong as well. Alternately, having expectations of a team but not training them is unfair and extremely demotivating. Invest in training to keep your people happy and productive, and to retain your talent. Employees feel empowered and valued when you invest in training them – and they are much more productive!

  7. Monitor your team’s performance – have forums and metrics in place that give you oversight of how your team is performing. Regular staff meetings can provide you with an understanding of what your team is working on, and provide you the opportunity to ask more in-depth questions around not only WHAT they are working on, but also HOW they are achieving results. Put systems in place to capture and track metrics such as dashboards and get regular status reports so you know how you’re doing on measurable activities pertinent to your role. Examples of regular reports (depending on your role) might be budget usage, revenue, sales close rates, retention, customer satisfaction surveys, etc.

  8. Evaluate the performance of your team members – the key to performance evaluation is having clear, agreed-upon role descriptions and documented goals for each employee. This requires spending time at the start of the year discussing both what the goals are and how the employee is expected to meet the goals, and ideally, what the rewards will be if those goals are met or exceeded. Periodic check-ins (quarterly or half-year) will allow you and the employee to understand if they are on track to meet the annual goals, and to make corrections if needed. At year-end, meet with each employee to compare their actual results with what their goals were. Having written and agreed-upon goals helps to keep the evaluation process objective.

  9. Release people from the team who aren’t a good fit – it can be hard to fire someone and many managers avoid this critical responsibility and burden themselves (and the rest of the team) due to their reluctance to have difficult conversations. Though it’s hard to fire someone, after the initial shock it can be a blessing for the underperforming employee as they are then freed to find a role that is a better fit for them. The key is to actively manage and communicate with them about expectations and provide opportunities for improvement. If you’ve provided those opportunities and the employee is still not working out, let them go. Be honest. So often, once the employee has left, the morale and efficiency of the rest of the team rises. Performance issues can be an invisible, but real, drag on the team as high performers cover for the laggards. If not dealt with promptly, your high performers may decide to depart, leaving you with only the underproductive employees.

Follow these steps and you are well on your way to promoting yourself to become a kick-ass leader. It will be fun for you and your employees when you've built a strong foundation for performance and impact. Go forth and kick ass!

If you've recently been promoted and could use some support during your transition, reach out to schedule your complimentary 30-minute discovery session to see if coaching is right for you. Check out my website for more articles on leadership and career management at

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© 2018 Terry B. McDougall