A New Leaders Guide to Thriving: Lesson 1 — the ‘To-Stop’ List

A three-part series on thriving as a newly promoted leader


Leon Purton

3 years ago | 6 min read

I’ve learnt a great deal about myself in making the transition from being responsible for doing things, to learning how to motivate a team to do things.

Despite there being a raft of leadership books, not many adequately address the transition from being a star — to growing a team of stars.

There are many people throughout history who mastered an activity, then tried their hands at becoming a coach or teacher in that field, only to fail. That is because the skills that got you promoted, are not the skills you need now.

The very first thing you need to focus on, one of the key things I’ve learnt is, instead of working out what it is you need to do. You need to work out what it is you need to stop doing.

This is the first of a three-part lesson series which aims to expand the thoughts I first put down a few months ago in this article; The First Three Things You Need To Do When You Get Promoted To Leadership.

Needpix by Tumisu

First Part — Promotion

You’ve made it!

Congratulations, that hard work and many thankless tasks have earnt you the opportunity to try your hand at leadership. You are excited and a little apprehensive about stepping into the role. You’ve seen some good leaders, and some bad, and have an idea about the type you’d like to be.

Your plan is to focus on your strengths, and you know that it is important to make a good first impression with the team. so you’ll try to be super-responsive and highly productive.

If it looks like the team is struggling, you dive into the trenches with them and use some of that native ability you have, the same one that got you promoted in the first place. ‘Follow me — I know the way’, you yell.

As the team continues to work the problems, they will hit some targets, but they will struggle to reach greatness as a team. They know that they don’t need to work it out themselves. If they get stuck, you’ll help them get it done, and without you helping all the time, they aren’t as good.

There is a way to avoid this, but you need to make a choice.

Photo by Ali Pazani on Unsplash

Second Part — What got you here won’t take you there.

So you’ve been promoted. You earnt that promotion through continued high performance. You worked out how to see what needed to be done, work out how to do it, and then get it done. You were a star performer. A super-contributor.

The thing is, it won’t help you now. You got promoted by being a do-er. You now need to grow a team of do-ers. Not only grow them but turn them into stars that could then get them promoted themselves.

To do this, you can’t be the do-er you use to be. You cant contribute in the ways that you know how to. Looking at how good you were, will not help you become better now.

This is the hardest realisation of all. The one thing that continues to limit the effectiveness of the new leader, is that no one has told them that they have to remaster a whole suite of new skills.

Like an excellent mechanic at the dance studio, your callused hands and logical mind will not help you keep a four-count in your head.

The new leader is the most vulnerable to reverting to what they know, to their strengths. It is the new leader that will give up on their newly developed leadership philosophy when the going gets tough. They will muck-in and help fix the problem.

This is a trap. One that once it becomes the normalised pattern it is exceptionally difficult to escape. New leaders need to break that habit. They need to stop fixing all the problems all the time.

But, in that situation, it is difficult to remind yourself of the right thing to do. This is where a to-stop list will help.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Third Part — stop, it’s their time

You are a new leader, anxious to make a good impression and start honing your leadership skills.

Here’s the thing, you got promoted by being one of the best at getting things done. Without too much assistance; you self-identify the problem, you self-manage the resources and consultation, you self-define the success criteria, and you take it upon yourself to communicate with your boss along the way. You were the best.

Weirdly, you still need to do all the things above; self-identify, self-manage, define your success criteria, and communicate. But you are now not the do-er. You have a team to manage to achieve the outcomes and successes you have identified.

With your promotion, you are no longer worried just about your self. You have a team to grow. If you continue to put yourself in the middle of everything your team does, you will stifle their ability to grow.

I previously wrote about the need to write a to-stop list and gave the following guidance;

  1. What is it that I feel like I need to do right now, that I need to stop and let the team take control of?
  2. What is it that I am doing, that I am not uniquely qualified to be doing, could someone else be doing this?

These are the two questions to ask yourself, the two questions you should use each week to populate your to-stop list. Sometimes the same thing will appear on your list each week, but you’ll slowly get better at letting it go, at establishing the accountability measures within your team to make sure it gets done properly. Without having to do it yourself.

The to-stop list should sit next to your to-do list. They are both equally important, and you should communicate with your team why.

A to-stop list is a process by which you empower your team. Or, as David Marquet said, empowerment is a false term for leadership. It means you are still giving them your authority to do the things that need to be done. Instead, aim for emancipation, where you create space for your team to find the power for themselves.

Talking to your team about what you are going to stop, and letting them work out how they are going to get it done, is a powerful team dynamic builder.

And — you need to stop because there is a raft of things you never had to think about before that need to be done now. You need to coordinate across teams, you need to fight for budgets, training and opportunities for your team. You need to work out what your boss needs, and how to get it to them.

All of this will take up your time in ways you probably didn’t expect. Most of your time will be identifying how to communicate what needs to be done or has been done.

So, the greatest gift you can give yourself and your team. Is clarity about what you are going to stop. You are going to stop it because you are not the right person to do it; you are not uniquely qualified to do it, or you are on longer best placed to get it done.

Let your team take up space you create by stopping doing something. It feels good to check something off a to-stop list as well.


Congratulations on your promotion!

Now a different type of work starts. It is full of unexpected challenges and most of them will come from within your team. People are difficult. To create the space for you to work out the new skills you need and allow your team to grow and thrive, you need to write a to-stop list.

You need to identify a list of things that your team are better placed than you to do, and then you need to let them do it. If you are not uniquely skilled to do it, they should do it. You need to focus on supporting your team in getting it done and supporting your boss in getting their tasks done.

Stay tuned for the next two articles in the series on ‘A New Leaders Guide to Thriving’ — forget and deflect.

This article was originally published by Leon Purton on medium.


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Leon Purton

Inspired by life. Leadership, Growth, Personal Development. Engineer and Sports Enthusiast. Top Writer in Leadership.







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