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Looking Good versus Learning - Why You Can't Have Both as a New Leader

new leader | Melissa Hague | Leadership Coach | Dorset

Making the transition from individual contributor to people manager is tough. Really tough. You were promoted because you were exceptional in your previous role. But now your success is measured differently—it's dependent on the work of others. This shift can feel uncomfortable and expose insecurities.

It's natural to want to prove yourself in your new position. However, many new managers focus too much on looking good versus learning. They think if they work longer and harder, they can power through and figure it out on their own. This temptation is understandable. But learning and looking good are incompatible and they don’t happen at the same time. When we try to protect our image, real growth gets stunted.

Learning and looking good do not happen at the same time

New managers face a dilemma. On one hand, they want to establish credibility and get up to speed quickly. On the other hand, they need to develop critical leadership skills. In truth, you can't fast-track genuine learning. Skill building requires vulnerability, courage and patience.

Here are three reasons why the urge to "look good" backfires for new managers:

  1. Perfectionism prevents progress. When we feel inadequate in a new role, it's tempting to overcompensate. But chasing perfection actually hampers growth. You avoid mistakes at all costs, sticking rigidly to what you know. This stops you from experimenting and accumulating the messy experience essential for mastery.

  2. Faking it is draining. Pretending to have all the answers when you don't is exhausting. It feeds anxiety and reinforces secrecy. You lose spontaneity and honesty. Over time, maintaining a façade saps your energy, creativity and authentic relationships.

  3. Asking for help gets postponed. Seeking assistance when needed is a sign of wisdom, not weakness. But when looking good is the priority, asking for help gets suppressed. You decline mentoring and shy away from collaborating. You rob yourself of feedback to develop critical skills.

The good news? Learning and looking good can coexist with the right mindset. Here are three tips:

  1. Adopt a growth mindset. View each day as a chance to get 1% better, not prove yourself. Reframe mistakes as data and feedback. Embrace the discomfort of not knowing everything as a privilege.

  2. Take baby steps. Don't expect overnight mastery. Set manageable goals for self-improvement. Small regular investments compound over time into something significant. Celebrate small wins.

  3. Be vulnerably courageous. Let go of control and care a little less what people think. Reveal gaps in skills or knowledge. Ask curious questions. You'll gain allies eager to help you grow.

Learning is messy and nonlinear. But leaders who aren't afraid to be both brave and afraid create an environment where people can thrive. Your team will respect your humanness and desire to develop. Prioritising learning over looking good is truly the smarter path to success.

Melissa Hague | Leadership Coach & Certifed Dare to Lead Facilitator

About the Author

Melissa is a Leadership Coach and Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator based in Dorset, with a particular interest in supporting people who are stepping up from managing individuals to leading other managers.


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