Skip to main content

Flip Your Script: How to Succeed as a First-time Leader


There are few things in life more daunting than assuming a leadership role for the first time, whether that’s leading a Toastmasters club or a work team for your employer. A key to success as a newly minted leader is to “flip your script,” says William Gentry, Ph.D., author of the acclaimed book Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders.

New leaders increase their odds of success if they can flip the script in some key performance areas, Gentry says. The phrase refers to shifting a mindset from being an individual contributor who is rewarded for personal accomplishments to a leader focused on the success of others.

Gentry says that leaders must change their thinking that everything is about them. “I use the old relationship break-up line of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ to describe the shift needed,” he says. “New leaders have to change that mindset or they can ­easily derail.”

Here are some of the areas where new leaders need to flip their thinking, with findings based on research Gentry conducted on 300 first-time leaders:


Mindset flip.

Successful first-time leaders have a thirst for learning and continual improvement, Gentry says, but not for the purpose of making themselves look good or to stand out from the pack. “The most successful new leaders don’t seek perfection but accept that they’ll make mistakes and grow from them,” he says. “That’s a hard flip to make from a high-performing individual contributor who may not be accustomed to failing.”


Skill-set flip.

The technical skills that have made new leaders successful in past roles don’t carry the same weight in leadership positions. “When I ask people in my research about the best leader or manager they’ve ever had, I never hear anyone say those leaders had great technical skills,” Gentry says. “It’s usually about their communication skills, their mentoring skills, their integrity or how they supported their teams through thick and thin.” The best leaders deflect credit and have their teams’ backs, Gentry says.


Relationship flip.

A top challenge for new leaders is transitioning from peer or friend to boss. “Moving from being alongside your team to above them is a unique and often jarring challenge for first-time leaders,” Gentry says. “No other leadership level has that obstacle.”


Do-it-all attitude flip.

New leaders often struggle with delegating and trusting their teams to perform. “If someone on their team is underperforming they often take it upon themselves to do their work for them,” Gentry says. “But it’s crucial that they learn early to coach, develop and mentor others rather than simply ­taking over their work.”


Perspective flip.

This requires adopting a win-win attitude rather than looking to triumph over others. “It means believing ‘I can understand your goals, you can understand mine, and we can find a way where both of us win,’” Gentry says. “It’s about shifting from a narrow perspective to a broader one that understands how all of the pieces of a team or of an organization fit together.”