People get hired or promoted into leadership roles every day.
Sadly, when they get the job they may get little or no training on how to lead a team. (1)
The opportunity to develop our future leaders before placing them into leadership roles is an obvious one. Building employee skills, capability and awareness to be ready for leadership is ideal, yet is rarely applied well in practice.
The first blog I wrote many years ago was titled, Falling Into Leadership. It highlighted the common practice of people being ‘thrust into’ leadership roles without development and support both prior to and during the opportunity. I have written about this topic again since as it is something that continues to challenge many organisations.
In fact, the low frequency of leadership support and meaningful development was a core reason why I created my business, CoachStation, in the first place. Too often I saw people being held accountable for our own failures to set them up for leadership success and support our team members to achieve.
Based on recent coaching conversations and discussions with clients, it would appear little has changed regarding leadership development in the years since.
It is timely to revisit the message and challenge ourselves as business leaders to ensure we provide the most promising base for our leaders and managers to succeed.
In practice few businesses truly succeed at maximising the opportunity for their new leaders, not to mention the existing leadership team. To genuinely succeed in business, leaders must know their role, continuously develop their skills and be constantly supported to achieve the best they can as a leader, based on each individual. It is worth taking a moment to consider where your organisation succeeds or fails in this area. Take stock and make adjustment where required. (2)
Being a genuine leader does not come from the role and title designated to you but rather from your decision-making, inclusiveness, delegation skills, ability to communicate and other, well-recognised and documented traits. Many of these leadership traits can be learned and enhanced through proper coaching and development, however it takes focus and effort.
Because no one tells them (leaders) how to lead, how to communicate with their team members or how to inspire people, they are left with the mistaken idea that their principal job is to get the highest level of output from their team mates — and that’s all! (1)
That is only part of the story. Maybe you can relate to the following scenario I originally presented in 2012.
You started in a company at a lower level. Opportunity presented itself in the form of a chance to step-up temporarily into a role providing more money, esteem, credibility or some other perceived benefit. You jumped at it! Of course, along with all of the benefits the role also came much higher expectation…that of others and yourself.
You worked hard. Things went fairly well but you didn’t really feel supported to truly excel. You wanted to be the best operator so didn’t ask many questions – after all, asking questions shows that you were not ready for the promotion in the first place, doesn’t it? “Better to bite your tongue and work your way through the issues on your own” is a common thought and action at this stage.
Your boss didn’t spend much time developing you or even working with you day to day. You were mostly left to yourself. In discussions, your boss commented that you were trusted and you should be able to do what’s required without the need to be ‘micro-managed’. This response rarely felt appropriate and in fact is a serious form of avoidance and reflects poorly on your boss but you wondered, what you could do to influence the situation? In some ways this autonomy had its benefits, but also plenty of downside. You were often stressed, tried to please everyone and in so doing often pleased few people, including yourself.
Longer hours and pressure meant that you regularly wanted something different but didn’t know how to achieve it or even what that difference looked or felt like.
However, after a while further opportunity presented itself. Another step onwards and upwards. You reflected on why you were being considered as you had not felt you were particularly effective in your current role, but people seemed to like you and you occasionally received some good feedback, however insincere it may have felt. You knew in your heart that you were not ready for more responsibility…more pressure…and you wondered, “can I fake it until I make it at an even higher level of management?” After all, your annual review (which is one of the few formal meetings you had with your boss) went fairly well, even though it lacked real depth and was a relatively ‘safe’ discussion with little meaning or opportunity for improvement.
So, you took on the new role because it was expected of you, or it offered greater prestige, salary or some other perceived or real benefit. You did not want to let others down and certainly the benefits outweighed the negatives…you’re leading people!
You are now responsible for your team, a process and regular input into projects and other ad-hoc work requiring your expertise, skills and knowledge. You were not only accountable for yourself but leading, developing, coaching and inspiring others. You often asked yourself whether you were ready to lead. If not, the impact would be felt by many.
Effective leadership can have a significant benefit on a team or business culture, personnel satisfaction, attrition, sickness levels and the bottom line. Ineffective leadership has exactly the opposite impact. Now, how does that pressure feel for you?
Reflecting on the scenario above, does it sound familiar? In my experience and working with many new and experienced leaders, this is a very common journey felt by many. Most of these people felt they had few opportunities to influence their situation, develop appropriate skills and feel supported during their journey.
Progress and genuine development will only succeed if you are willing to take some risks, source someone to assist you (a coach, mentor, role-model or some other trusted person) and challenge your own beliefs, perceptions and perspectives.
Leadership development is a joint responsibility – yours and your organisations. Too many leaders wait for others to provide them with the answers…and end up waiting a long time.
Accountability and ownership are extremely important traits in your development.
The ability to take yourself out of your comfort zone often enough to test yourself and learn, is key. Knowing when to step back into your comfort zone is also a skill linked to self-awareness and emotional intelligence. These are skills and traits that can be learned.
Employees typically don’t fail. They are failed by their leaders.
No matter what level of the organisation people are employed at, the benefits in setting up all of your employees for success are too many to list here. The opposite is also true, with the risk of not getting it right negatively impacting your organisation for years. Very few companies are actually training people. They are expected to come equipped ready to work. The mindset is “what are you bringing to the table”? However, it’s important to set the employee up for success on the front end with:
- A solid job description and clear expectations
- Training and development opportunities
- A path to grow and develop with the organization. (3)
There is no doubt that the most effective and respected leaders in any role or organisation are those who recognise that they are not in their role because they have all the answers. They are honest in their own self-assessment and seek the same of others. They are successful because they understand their own strengths and limitations, possessing the self-awareness and desire to surround themselves with a team who have supporting strengths and skill-sets that contribute to the effectiveness of the team.
Effective leaders are accountable to themselves and take on the responsibilities for their role, inputs and outcomes willingly and with purpose. This is not a one way street. Organisations must support their current and future leaders and continue to provide relevant and genuine development and growth opportunities.
To succeed as a leader, significant support is required.
Success starts before the opportunity to lead begins…or at least, it should.
Effective leadership manifests itself through many positive influences. It is our responsibility to make this good intention a reality.
Conversely, when we expect people to automatically become the leaders we want without our support and development, the risk is that we get what we deserve.