I’ve yet to run a workshop or program on leadership where anything approaching a majority of the participants describe their initial days of their initial role as a team leader, supervisor or manager as a period when they received much if any support and coaching from their own direct manager.
Most describe this particularly precarious professional time as more like a “hit and run,” or, at least “promote and run,” where their manager anoints them as in charge of some group and disappears like a Cheshire Cat, grin and all, only to resurface around performance review time. Sadly, the flameout rate for first-time leaders is high, and the fallout on those being led equally high.
Experienced Leaders Often Perpetuate the Sink or Swim Approach
Unfortunately, many experienced leaders (those promoting the first-timers) will fall under the cone of silence and, with just a bit of truth serum, admit to perpetuating the same promote and run approach they received during their own careers. “I know it’s wrong, but I’m too busy,” described one. “I promoted her because I knew she was up to the job and because I needed someone to carry that load while I dealt with mine,” offered another. And, “I survived and if he’s as good as I think he is, he’ll survive as well,” added one experienced leader.
The slight pang of guilt I feel every time I write about this topic tells me I might have committed this act of leadership treachery at some point during my journey as well. Ouch.
While few of us have time to handhold … and that’s not healthy for anyone anyways, we all have an obligation to ourselves, our firms and those we’ve put into roles of responsibility to do a better job with this important development task.
8 Things You Can Do to Start Supporting Your First-Time Leaders More Effectively:
- Provide clear context for the role. Help the individual understand your view and the organization’s view on and expectations for their team and their role. Ideally, make certain the new supervisor can see clearly how his/her role and team plug into the firm’s strategic goals. We do our best work when we have context for its importance. Your first-timer will draw upon this context to motivate his/her team.
- Establish clear accountability for outcomes. The new leader is typically overwhelmed with the people complexities of leading and it’s easy to lose track of what needs to be done to help the rest of the organization. By clearly communicating how the new leader’s performance and team performance will be evaluated, you remove much of the ambiguity from the situation.
- Scheduling planned time to connect and a “911″ protocol for crises with the new leader. The planned time provides an anchor for regular updates and having a clear “911 protocol” assures the new leader that you are there in a pinch. (And yes, those momentary crises are great teaching opportunities.)
- Resist telling and focus on teaching. Use questions to teach. Your best friend may in response to, “What should I do?” is, “What do you think you should do?” Too many senior managers fall back on telling their first-timers what to do. That’s not teaching.
- Choose a variety of settings/situations to observe and then provide coaching feedback. Hey, this is your job and your diligence here will absolutely pay dividends. You get to see the new leader in action and the new leader gains valuable insights and performance suggestions.
- Resist the urge to flame the new leader for mistakes. Your post-mistake coaching opportunity must focus on, “What did you learn?” and “How would you do this differently?”
- Provide ample positive feedback (when it’s earned, of course). Confidence is one of the missing components of first-time leaders, so celebrate the small victories.
- If things are going well, ratchet up the challenges. We learn by exposure to new and more complicated situations. As the new leader develops confidence for current tasks, establish a challenge in a new and more complicated area and keep pushing him/her out of the proverbial comfort zone.
The Bottom-Line for Now
A first-time leader is a horrible thing to waste. You’re already invested in the promotion, now get involved in creating the success.
This blog originally appeared at artpetty.com.