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Preparing First-Time Leaders for Success


preparing-first-time-leaders-for-success-bodySo, you have a star employee on your team—a proverbial rock star. She knows what is expected of her and excels at every turn. She shows initiative and creative problem solving skills. She is an informal leader and her peers respect her and see her as an expert. She lives by your company’s values and has earned the trust of everyone she works with. You know about an opportunity for her to move into a management role, but how do you set her up for success?

The transition from individual contributor to people manager is often anything but smooth. Leadership transition research conducted by Development Dimensions International (DDI) found that more than 87% of first-time leaders are not prepared for their new role, while only 11% said they felt that they were properly groomed for a management role through training and development. Those numbers are discouraging. It is all too common for organizations to take an exceptional employee and put them in a position of leadership, but fail to prepare them for success. The end result negatively impacts the employees the new manager is leading, the new leader, and your business. Before you promote your next rock star employee, learn a few steps you can take to set him or her up for success in their new leadership role.

1. Make sure the employee wants to lead people.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all employees want to lead people. Some people enjoy being individual contributors and aren’t interested in the added responsibility that comes with a leadership role—and there is nothing wrong with that as long as this is discovered before they are thrust into a leadership position. Motivation to lead must be present in order for your employee to excel.

2. Be honest

It’s important that you set clear expectations and describe what success looks like for the employee in their new role. Regular one-on-one meetings are critical for a new manager’s growth and development because it gives you an opportunity to:

  • Discuss potential challenges and how to overcome them

  • Provide honest feedback on their performance

  • Provide coaching on missteps

  • Provide praise when they demonstrate excellence

3. Model good leadership

Your employees are watching you, and the decisions employees observe while in non-managerial positions under your leadership might be the most formative influence on their careers. Your new leader may be especially observant. He or she will learn how to react under pressure, how to respond to difficult situations, how to give praise and feedback, etc. from watching you.

4. Be patient

Comparable to adding an outside hire to your team, promoting an individual contributor to a management position will require patience. As you probably know, great leaders are not made overnight, so it’s important that you’re patient and set realistic expectations for your new manager while giving them the room to grow into their new role.

5. Prepare your new leader for every situation

While none of us can be completely prepared for every situation we will encounter, it’s important to equip your new manager with situational leadership skills. Each of their employees will have different personalities, work styles, motivation, and levels of knowledge, so it’s vital to their success to learn how to manage each of those employees, in each situation. Provide your new leader with knowledge and development opportunities. Plug them into associations or networks that can help deepen their industry knowledge. Encourage them to take classes that will expand their understanding of human behavior. I am a big advocate of Everything DiSC and Crucial Conversations. If there are books that helped you along the way, recommend them to your new leader to give them a jump start.

As a business or department leader, there is almost nothing quite as rewarding as watching one of your employees grow and expand their roles. This is especially critical for those moving into a people leadership role. Remember that part of your role is to model behaviors that will help make your employees successful. This means it is doubly important to continue your own learning and development because by doing so you are further preparing your first-time people leaders for success. 

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“Zenger/Folkman surveyed nearly 1,000 employees, and 72% thought their performance would improve with the help of feedback.”

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