It’s quite typical for organizations to promote from within. You may have identified an extraordinary team member that has demonstrated leadership qualities in a variety of situations.
And that is certainly a great start.
But it is a start.
Although they may possess deep expertise executing tasks and collaborating with colleagues, obtaining positional power changes the dynamics.
So what can leaders do to help ensure that newly appointed managers have been provided with the basic essentials to also be effective?
The very first thing is choosing the role model mindset.
Yes, I know. We hear it all the time. The leader as a role model. Although not exactly new, it is essential. And, it's one thing to know about it. It’s another to actually be doing it.
Leading by example is absolutely one of the fundamental pillars of effective leadership. It’s the infamous “You need to walk the talk.” You can't just say one thing, then behave in a completely different way, and then expect the team to be like: “Oh yeah, what the person says is absolutely what we're going to do.” It doesn't work that way.
As leader, your team will come to you for guidance. It's important to let new leaders know this, that the team will come to them for guidance and that actions do speak louder than words. By having them model the behavior that you expect from your team, you establish trust and credibility. Really remind that to the new leader so that they truly recognize it, that they understand that eyes are on them to demonstrate integrity, professionalism, a strong work ethic, enthusiasm, commitment to the work. Because if the leader is checked out, guess what's going to happen? The team members are going to start checking out too. And when you lead by example, you set the tone for the entire organization. Being that positively impactful leader requires choosing to be a role model.
When you share that with the new leader, also reassure them. It may feel scary to them. That whole concept of “all eyes are going to be on me, they're going to be watching every move I make, that's going to be so stressful.” Reassure them that it's okay. That it's not about always being right, not about always having the answers. But, at least, if you have the mindset, if you try, if you show up, then that will have an impact.
Let's face it, if I'm perfectly transparent here: I haven't exactly been perfect and I haven't behaved the right way all the time or said the right things all the time. I have made plenty of mistakes. And I'm sure that if you're an experienced leader, you have your share of mistakes as well. It's totally normal. It's part of growing as a leader, it's part of growing as human beings. And if you are able to even share maybe a story or two when you made a mistake, maybe even a story that involved that new leader, then great. Because then if they're involved in whatever happened and you bring it back, then they get to see it through a different lens now that they are also managers. Just try to be a role model by consistently embodying the values and behaviors that you would like to see within the organization.
Everybody says feedback is important. It is important and it is also not easy to provide.
Feedback is a powerful tool for growth and development, but to be effective, it is crucial that it is provided in both a timely and constructive manner.
How many times have we seen some condescending language or some negative remarks being disguised as, “this is just feedback, I'm trying to help you”. When in fact, but really they're not. Be aware of that. Be aware that team members may feel the comment differently as well. If it's coming from a colleague or a supervisor, maybe that same element of feedback, if it came from their colleague, would be received differently. Make sure that you impart that knowledge to your new leaders and managers.
Also remind them that the feedback should be specific, it should be objective, and it should be focused on behavior or performance. It's really easy to start talking about personal characteristics or start using blaming language. “Oh, you should have done this, you should have done that. And why didn't you do this and that.” And even tone, sometimes if we get a little frustrated, it can come out and come through. And that person's receiving that.
Even though it may be accurate, we're still trying to encourage the person to want to do things a certain way. And I know some managers say: “Well, I'm giving them a paycheck. That should be enough.” It's not. If you don't want the truly highly performing people, then that's fine. I heard this absolutely wonderful term used by Kerry Siggins, CEO of StoneAge: paycheck player. The term is so illustrative to be a paycheck player, someone who is only there for their paycheck. You don't want that. If you have a team of paycheck players, your organization is going to fall behind.
To help avoid that, you really want to find a way to provide feedback that is in a constructive manner.
And, also, please, and thank you really do go a long way. All the time, I say things like: “I would really appreciate it if you could, please …” Yes, of course I'm not just asking, but the way I'm asking is better than, “Hey, do this.” It feels nicer. It takes just a few more moments to add those extra kind words in there. And it makes a difference.
Also, when possible, make sure to celebrate the successes and acknowledge the achievements. If the only thing that's being done in terms of providing feedback is just the things that need to be improved, that gets really discouraging at one point. It's like, “Hey, am I doing anything right?” So you want to make sure that your new leaders, new managers understand that for sure. As I just mentioned, it's important to bring up and discuss areas for improvement, but we really want to celebrate the achievements as well. Surely the team member has done some great things as well, otherwise why are they there?
In addition, depending on how new the leader is at managing, you might need to reassure them that it's okay for team members to have better ideas. That it's all about creating a safe and supportive environment where feedback flows both ways. So just let them know that it's all about welcoming input and suggestions from team members. And this will help improve trust and communication as well.
Fostering a positive work environment is essential for a thriving organizational culture. Make sure that the new leader understands how they play a role in this. They're not just there to support, but also to create that environment. It is also their responsibility to create that space where individuals feel valued, where they feel respected, where they feel empowered.
As part of this effort, it's important to also make sure that new leaders understand the difference between a positive environment and toxic positivity. We don't want to be all: “everything is wonderful all of the time”. That is not good at all because then it forces people to not show up as themselves. And if they are struggling with something, then they're just going to put it aside, put on a mask, pretend that everything is fine. Then, we can't truly support them if we have this toxic positivity culture where everybody's great and everybody's doing wonderfully and nobody brings problems.
Part of creating this positive culture is to take the time to recognize and appreciate the unique contributions of each team member. That's something that I've experienced that I absolutely love. I think this is one of my favorite things, getting to know what each team member brings that no one else does. You can have a whole team of people doing the exact same thing in terms of general tasks, titles, general knowledge, but their personalities and unique experiences give them something different, and they each bring just something a little bit unique. And that's my favorite thing: uncovering what's that little thing that they have that no one else does? And that actually plays to the leader's advantage in the sense that when you're faced with a complex situation, you know who you can approach because that person is particularly good at that particular thing. I'm going to approach them and see what they think. Explain to your new leaders to take the time to do that. It is worth it. I promise you it's worth it.
This new leader, in addition to continuing to advance the technical aspects of their work, will be more likely to thrive earlier in all aspects of leadership if they have some form of support as they balance out their skills in their new role.
Consider whatever form that may take for your organization. From a book club led by a senior manager to lunch and learns to regular mentoring and coaching sessions while they ramp up. Pick something that makes sense and guide the new leaders in their growth.
In turn, as they improve those skills, they may just inspire the team to reach new heights of success.