As an executive coach, while I am most often working with senior organizational leaders, I also have the privilege of coaching emerging leaders. These individuals have been identified as high-potentials who are being prepared for a first time leadership role or who are being promoted to a higher stakes leadership role. It is a joy for me to work with these rising leaders because they are hungry to learn, willing to be vulnerable, and genuinely want to be successful in their new roles. Working with these individuals to identify their strengths to leverage, overcome any weaknesses, and discover their blind spots is some of the most meaningful work I’m engaged in. When emerging leaders are appropriately supported with an empowering development plan and they are making a positive impact on the organization, it fills my soul to see them thriving in their new role.
My first conversation with a first time or transitioning leader typically starts with the reassurance that feeling uneasy about a new leadership role is completely normal. Research shows that 74% of leaders say they feel unprepared for new responsibilities and only 29% feel their organizations properly support their transition (Paese and Wellins, DDI, April 2015). Often managers of high-potential employees overestimate an emerging leader’s ability to make the transition to a new role. As a result, senior management neglects mentoring high-potentials when what is really needed is more – not less – guidance. Leadership is a skill that must be developed over time. It doesn’t always come naturally, even to the most talented individuals.
When a new leader is not appropriately guided or mentored and becomes unsuccessful in their new role, the organizational consequences are significant. Progress stalls, key performance indicators are not met, trust erodes, disengagement happens, attrition occurs and the ability to successfully recruit is compromised – all while the competition is racing ahead.
Here are 10 guidelines for successfully navigating a new leadership role:
1. Clearly define your leadership role. Is your primary task to maintain and steadily improve what you inherited? Launch something new? Or, overhaul a dysfunctional team?
2. Understand your team’s function and how it supports the overall enterprise.
3. Develop a strategic vision for your team and clearly communicate it to your team. People don’t leave ‘bad companies,’ they leave ‘bad bosses.’ A bad boss lacks the vision to align their team with their organizational goals.
4. Establish healthy boundaries with direct reports who used to be your peers. It’s important to recalibrate your relationship by communicating new protocols and expectations, without acting like the promotion has gone to your head.
5. Build trust with your team. Hold one-on-one meetings to gain input, listen intently, seek to understand frustrations, create space for expression of desired changes, and alleviate concerns. Establishing a “safe zone” for these conversations is essential to establishing a new foundation of trust.
6. Understand the expectations and priorities of key stakeholders you will be collaborating with and serving.
7. Learn the organizational politics. Like it or not, politics exist in all organizations and it is essential to understand it in order to have the ability to effectively navigate it.
8. Gain a keen understanding of the culture. Measure it and determine the cultural shifts that will be required to improve performance.
9. Assess your team and take action on necessary changes sooner rather than later. Are the right people on your bus? What is their current level of performance and capability? Are they effectively structured and aligned?
10. When you take action and begin to implement changes, start by explaining why and tie the changes back to the strategic vision you established for your team.
Following these guidelines will get you off on the right path and becoming aware of these common pitfalls will help you avoid derailment and delays in progress.
Here are 3 pitfalls for emerging leaders to avoid:
1. Focusing more on yourself than others – No one makes progress without help from others. It is important to acknowledge the co-workers who have contributed to your success. This will demonstrate you are a leader of integrity and one who values collaboration.
2. Starting a major overhaul right away – Too often, new leaders try to make their mark and prove they were deserving of the promotion by making radical changes too soon, without having the perspective necessary to know if the changes will actually work in the current organizational climate. Big changes create fear of the unknown, which leads to a lack of trust – especially if the changes fall flat. The best thing a new leader can do is some intentional environment scanning. Observe the operations of the team, assess, and learn about the inner connections of the team’s impact before making a major move.
3. Staying too close socially with peers who are now your direct reports – Distancing yourself from your team socially is not only appropriate but required of someone in a leadership role. If you continue to go to happy hour, stay for one drink then leave. And avoid gossip while remaining approachable.
Be patient as you assess your team and start to implement changes. It will likely take about six months to create a measurable and lasting impact. Most importantly, as you gain enough understanding about your new role to formulate meaningful questions, ask for support by seeking guidance from a mentor or coach. According to a 2015 McKinsey & Company study, “tailored executive coaching and customized assimilation plans have been shown to double the likelihood of leadership success, but only 32% of organizations use them.” Don’t wait for a mentor to be assigned or for the human resources department to find the right training for you. Take an active role in seeking out the guidance you need to be successful.
Even with the most well defined leadership development plan in place, it is important to recognize everything is not going to go according to plan. When challenging situations arise take time to reflect and ask yourself – What have you learned? Where are your gaps in understanding and knowledge? Are you spending your time wisely? Answering these questions will set the tone for your next course of action. As a new leader, you must continue to assess, pivot, prioritize and take action on what matters most –both to you and to your organization – to ensure you create the impact you want to have in your new leadership role.
Grow with purpose.
Emily Rogers is an executive coach, business consultant and retreat facilitator. She strategically advises and supports organizations and individuals in growing and realizing their full potential in purposeful and balanced ways. You can connect with her at www.emilyrogers.com.