You’ve worked tirelessly and it’s paid off.

That innovative start-up you founded now has a staff of 100 and your sales are through the roof. Or your stellar performance at work got you promoted to a big management role.

Executive Brief

  • Communicate clearly, because employees will scrutinize your words, actions and body language.
  • Consider which traits got you this far and which may not continue to serve you as a leader.
  • Empower others and showcase their successes.
  • Don’t get swallowed up in the day-to-day.

  • Now comes the hard part: You’re going to have to reorient yourself if you want to succeed as a leader.

    Become more self-aware

    Your opinions mean a lot to the people who work under you, so you need to be mindful about the words you choose and the body language you use.

    Employees will watch everything you say and do to figure out what you mean and how you feel about, well, everything … them, their work, the company’s future, etc.

    “People read into tiny nuances,” said Maren Perry, president of Arden Coaching.

    And they will readily misinterpret them unless you communicate clearly.

    Even something small — like not always looking someone in the eye when they’re speaking to you — can be taken as rejection or impatience, when really your habit is to look down when listening carefully. Or maybe you’re distracted because you just learned your daughter got injured playing soccer.

    Simply saying as much can head off any unnecessary concerns, which will distract your employees. But that first requires you to be aware of your effect on others.

    Also, think about the traits that got you this far in your career and assess whether they’ll continue to serve you well, said Peter Bregman, founder of leadership advisory firm Bregman Partners.

    Maybe you got promoted to the C-suite by always being fiercely competitive with your colleagues.

    “That same trait could lead to total failure in your new role,” Bregman said. “Your colleagues in the C-suite and on your team now have to be your greatest collaborators so you can drive collectively toward shared goals.”

    Get out of the weeds

    If you’re highly detail oriented, a control freak or just used to doing everything yourself, you’ll have to step back. In a big way.

    “You have to learn to be effective at leading through others,” Perry said.

    Tiffany Masterson, founder of the skincare line Drunk Elephant, started her company in 2012 with just herself and a few contractors. For years she did everything — creating product formulas, handling customer service, designing packaging, marketing and more. But as the business grew, it got to be too much.

    Today the company has nearly 100 employees. Masterson, who still maintains full creative control, has had to let go of much of the day-to-day work of the company.

    “I have this team I love and trust. You need to have people you trust who can speak for you,” she said.

    Move from player to coach

    One hallmark of true leadership is knowing how to give others the power to succeed. The higher you go, the less you should control and the more you should inspire and empower those on your team, Bregman said. “And showcase everything that the people who report to you do.”

    Peter Cancro has been in the same business for nearly 50 years. He’s the founder of Jersey Mike’s Subs, which now has over 1,000 franchises. Cancro started working in the original shop as a teenager.

    He loved every part of the business and still does. But his role has had to change.

    “I miss the days of doing it all myself. But you have to learn to be a head coach and not a player,” said Cancro, who created a very strong training and support system for those who own and work in the franchises.

    Early in her career, Kimberley Gardiner, chief marketing officer of Mitsubishi Motors North America, felt she had to have all the answers and prove she had a clear vision of where to take things.

    “I was much more, ‘Here’s our game plan.’ But now I enable others to come up with their own recommendations,” said Gardiner.

    The end result, she said, are better solutions that include great ideas from everyone on her team.

    Mind your time

    While you delegate work and empower others, you also have a slew of new demands to meet.

    That makes long, windy meetings a poor use of your time.

    Cancro likes people to come so prepared to a meeting that it’s almost over before it begins, he said.

    Gardiner loves the five-minute standup for quick updates. And she considers anyone who requests — and sticks to — a 15-minute meeting a rock star.

    “My time is precious. I never thought I’d value an hour as much as I do now,” Gardiner said.

    Have confidence in your own voice

    Asserting yourself as a first-time leader can be a process, especially for women.

    Masterson, who had never run a business before, makes decisions quickly. But she used to feel bad when her decisions went against what her team was proposing. As her company grew, however, she learned to trust her instincts. “Today, I’m more confident in my gut and now I can say, you may think I’m crazy but this is how we’re going to do this.”

    At the same time, she knows she needs to rely on the expertise of those she hired with experience in the beauty industry to raise points she may not have considered initially.

    “It’s easy to get inflated. A lot of people surround themselves with people who say ‘yes, yes, yes.’ But you’ve got to have people who say, ‘Let’s not go so fast.’”

    Did you ever have a great boss? What traits made him or her so wonderful? Tell us about it and you could be included in an upcoming story.