So you’re a senior manager and you’ve identified a high-performing individual contributor as a good candidate for promotion to a management position. At this point your responsibility to this emerging leader is only beginning. How you guide the employee through the transition from individual contributor to leader will be critical to that person’s success.
Senior managers often assume successful individual contributors will innately understand how to be a leader and transition smoothly into a supervisory position. The reality is often much more complex because they are stepping into an entirely new job with different day-to-day duties, relationships, expectations and visibility within the organization.
While it’s possible some people have natural leadership instincts, more often than not effective leaders are developed through the right support and approach — which as a senior manager is your responsibility.
Following these five steps will help you position your emerging leaders for maximum success in 2018.
Define What ‘Success’ Means
New leaders typically emerge because they’ve been great at their jobs and somebody in the organization believes they could be successful leading other people. In reality, even high-performers are usually not quite ready to take on a leadership role, or they don’t fully understand what it means to be a leader. It’s a senior manager’s job to impart that knowledge.
I often work with employees in industrial settings. In these types of workplaces a smart, high-performing plant operator could move up to lead operator and eventually to first-line supervisor, which is a vastly different job with different responsibilities. In cases such as these, the transition should begin with a conversation about how being a leader differs from being an individual contributor.
The goal is not to discourage the employee, but rather to have a clear and intentional conversation about the differences between the old and new positions, as well as what success looks like in the leadership role. It’s also a good time to explain why you thought this employee would make a good leader in the first place.
Create a Development Plan
As a manager or mentor, one of your most important responsibilities is to help your employees strengthen their skills, and one of the most effective ways to do this is through an Individual Development Plan. The overarching goal should be to give the emerging leader access to experiences and skills they’ll need to be successful in a leadership role.
A manager creating a development plan should be looking ahead to how to help emerging leaders achieve success as soon as they are promoted. Ask yourself if they need to start learning new skills or developing relationships before they get the promotion so they are ready for the step up. For example, one of the key skills for effective leadership is the ability to delegate work — which is quite hard to cultivate before you’re in a leadership position.
A well-crafted professional development plan should identify strengths and weaknesses, along with action steps to help the employee build on his positives and improve in his weaker areas. The plan can help you consistently place top employees in real workplace situations that challenge, teach and help them develop into effective leaders.
Invest in Training
Developing new skills — such as learning new software or a different function within the business — or improving existing skills — such as delivering effective presentations — will increase the employee’s overall knowledge and competencies critical to the business.
This is a process that ideally should begin well before the transition takes place. Start having the emerging leader explore any tools, such as software, they will need in the new position. If a new leader will be overseeing technical workers, make sure they at least understand the work of the people they’ll be managing. New leaders also often struggle to get a handle on the administrative activities that come along with managing people, such as the level and frequency of meetings, the volume of email, and expectations around reports.
Formal training events are also a key component of a transition to a management position. Leadership training can be a fun and engaging event that allows your high-performers to be with others who are emerging as leaders. They can share stories and obtain practical information about how to effectively do this thing we call leadership.
Get Them a Mentor or Coach
To help an emerging leader reach their potential, find mentors or coaches who can offer an objective perspective on their performance. An effective mentor should be able to simultaneously offer feedback and help push employees to stretch themselves with new opportunities.
The ideal mentor candidate is someone the individual can talk to who doesn’t have a direct say in their job performance. Emerging leaders may find it difficult to confide in their current bosses because they fear their managers will interpret any concerns as a sign they’re not ready or are fearful of more responsibility.
There is value in creating an atmosphere that allows emerging leaders to move into a new position with the ability to ask questions without negative repercussions. Giving them the space to ask questions and learn will help them succeed over the long run.
Prepare Them for New Office Social Dynamics
One of the struggles with earning a promotion and becoming a leader is that you may no longer have access to the same group of friends at work. It’s a mistake to underestimate the value of having work friends — whether it’s someone you can go to lunch with or just someone whose desk you stop by occasionally for a quick chat about office issues. Suddenly losing that circle of support without preparation can have negative consequences for a newly promoted leader.
First, have a conversation with the emerging leader to start a thought process about how those relationships are going to change, so the new dynamic is not a shock. Next, think about how you can accept that person into a new office circle that will give him support as they transition into the new position. It may seem like a small gesture, but these types of preparations are critical in the early days of a promotion.
As a senior manager, one of your most important responsibilities is to help your employees thrive, and guiding emerging leaders through their first foray into leadership will give them a solid foundation for long-term success.
Need help developing your emerging leaders? Consider sending them to the Success Labs Management Incubator.
Success Labs is a full-service, strategic organizational and leadership development company located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to explore their business potential and improve their company and cultural performance. Contact us to get proactive about your people strategy.