Over the past few months, I’ve written a number of articles that examined from different vantage points the importance of leaders providing support and guidance for those under their care.
Judging from the response these pieces received, it’s clear that these ideas and insights certainly resonated with my readers. And yet, the truth is that when it comes to discussions about providing support to members of our organization, there is one subset that unfortunately gets overlooked in these conversations. The group I’m referring to are those employees who’ve recently been promoted into leadership roles.
To understand the unique challenges they face, we must first consider the process by which many newly-minted leaders are selected for taking on these new roles.
In most cases, being offered a leadership role is treated as a promotion – either to reward an employee’s past achievements, or to ensure their talents and skills are retained within the organization. Consequently, organizations end up with people in leadership positions who don’t have the proper skills and mindset to successfully lead others.
Indeed, a recent study by Gallup found that 82% of current managers lack the skills and aptitude to be an effective leader, skills like being able to “motivate every single employee to take action”, creating a “culture of clear accountability”, building relationships with those they lead, and making decisions based on what’s best for the team and organization as opposed to just for themselves.
In other cases, the promotion of employees to new leadership roles is hastily done in response to the growing number of vacancies in leadership positions. For example, one study found that only 36% of surveyed companies were prepared to immediately fill vacancies in their leadership roles.
One of the more obvious issues these findings reveal is that many organizations are moving people into leadership roles too quickly, in that they lack sufficient leadership training and development to ensure they succeed in this new role.
Or even worse, they give leadership roles to people who don’t have what it takes to effectively lead others; that while they might be technically proficient, they don’t have knowledge, insights or skills necessary to take on the responsibility to lead others.
But the other issue these approaches to leadership promotion creates is that it misleads new leaders about how they should view their new role within their organization. That becoming a leader is more than another rung on the career ladder; it’s moving onto a whole new one [Share on Twitter].
It’s a distinction that’s worth noting as it brings to mind a common truth that becomes more apparent as we move forward in our career trajectory. Namely, that what helped us to succeed in the past can impede our ability to succeed in the future [Share on Twitter].
For example, before we took on the responsibility to lead, we succeeded in our previous role because of what we knew; of what specific insights and experiences we brought to the table that can help our organization solve the various challenges they faced, or discover untapped opportunities for growth.
However, as leaders, what matters is not what we know, but our ability to tap into what our employees know [Share on Twitter].
It’s this critical pivot that – thanks to the limited support they get – new leaders often fail to make, which is why we often see new managers falling into the trap of micromanaging those they lead. They continue to view their role within the organization from the lens of their own knowledge base, insights, and experience, with greater weight being put on what they know as opposed to what their team members can contribute regarding a particular situation or idea.
Granted, it is important for new leaders to find their own way; to discover their own unique voice, approach, and style to how they will lead others going forward.
But we shouldn’t confuse that with our obligation to ensure that we provide the necessary support to those we move into leadership positions in order to help them understand the true nature of leadership.
Namely, that true leadership is not about the power you have, but about your ability to empower those you lead [Share on Twitter].
In other words, organizations need to change the way they promote people to leadership roles because becoming a leader is not about promoting yourself; it’s about helping others to succeed and thrive [Share on Twitter].
Bringing this kind of intentionality to how we develop and support leaders is important, not only to how organizations select who will join the leadership ranks within their workplace, but in how our employees view and understand what they should expect from those in charge.
Indeed, as much as it’s critical for today’s leaders to create an environment where employees are internally driven to bring their best efforts to the work they do, it’s incumbent on those in senior leadership positions to ensure that they are providing the right guidance and support for those who will one day take their place at the helm.
As the studies above demonstrate, organizations today are doing a poor job, not just in who they select to be brought into the leadership ranks, but in providing a genuine understanding of these roles. Of how these new leaders will in many ways be essentially striking forth in a whole new direction, as opposed to simply continuing on their current path.
This is why a great team can so quickly fall apart with a change in leadership. It’s not simply a question of loyalty to their previous leader as it is a failure of their new one to understand the true nature of their role and how they can’t rely on their past successes in other roles to dictate how they’ll succeed in this new one.
And the simple truth is – in talking with new leaders in both Canada and the US – there is a definite desire and need amongst them to have that kind of support from those in charge. That they know they have the permission to fail because it’s not their past successes, but their potential to succeed that has provided them with this opportunity to lead others in their organization.
A few years ago, I wrote a piece about why leadership should be hard; it’s a truth that applies both to the most seasoned and the most inexperienced leaders. That’s why it’s incumbent on organizations to ensure that they support new leaders in their endeavour as much as they expect these new managers to encourage the success of those under their care.
Such efforts will not only ensure your investment in their leadership development pays off, but it will also ensure that your organization is providing conditions for everyone to succeed and thrive.