Equip your leaders

Geoff was pumped when he was promoted to his new job as a manager in the customer service department. He had earned it with great results; customers loved him, he solved problems faster than his peers and he had taken on extra projects.

So, why was he struggling six months into his new job?

Geoff, like many new leaders, has received no training. His boss figured since he did so well doing his old job, he would figure out how to get other people to do it well, too. But as any experienced manager knows, excellent leadership skills often have very little to do with the technical skills that got them there.

Because leadership isn’t as tangible as executing a software program, or calming down a customer, it’s easy to assume the new leader will just figure it out. Geoff was figuring it out but stumbling around in the process. He had irritated one of his peers, landed in the doghouse with HR for late performance reviews and created resentment among his team for a poorly executed new vacation policy. Damage control was taking hours out of his week and the ill will hole he was creating would be tough to climb out of.

How much do you think that cost the company? How many hours of rework would he and others spend calling special meetings to salve feelings and right wrongs? How many emails would be sent to clarify intent? How much would it take to fill the position vacated by an angry employee?

You know what I’m talking about because you’ve seen it happen. And those are just the big mistakes. There can be endless hours spent trying to figure out little things that could have taken minutes if someone had just shown the way.

There are some fairly simple things that can be done to provide training and support for a new manager. Here are some ideas to get you started:


  • Provide leadership experiences before the person is promoted. As a project leader, or head of a committee, they will get real exposure to what it takes to lead through others. For instance, put them in a go-to role, so they learn how to be a point person who helps others. Have them be your back up person when you are on vacation. Have them take the lead on a new piece of software. Ask them to be the trainer for a new employee.



  • Create an onboarding checklist. You may be able to get help with this from HR or the outgoing manager. The list would include people to interview in the first few weeks; people such as key internal customers and peers. The list would also include some important tasks and responsibilities, along with some resources that can provide some one-on-one training. The more specific and measureable the list, the better.



  • If the new manager is from the outside, or is replacing a poor manager who has left a lot of team turmoil, ask an outside facilitator to conduct an assimilation process to work through the mutual expectations of the new manager and the team. I can attest to the difference this can make in getting the team off to a healthy start.



  • Assign a mentor, who can meet with the new leader over the course of a few months, to make sure he or she is getting what they need. The mentor’s role is to fill in the gaps that aren’t in the handbook, such as political and cultural background about sensitive situations. An ideal mentor would be a seasoned person who can provide a mature view and good guidance. It may be a leader near retirement, a director in another department, or a peer manager. The advantage is that the new manager can ask questions he or she may not want to ask their boss, and they get additional perspectives. And for senior level leaders in a stretch role, consider investing in an outside coach to make the transition a smooth one.



  • Schedule a meeting between the new leader and his or her boss once a week for at least 30 minutes. It’s surprising to me how seldom these touch-base meetings occur for new leaders. During this time the manager can answer questions and monitor how the onboarding is going.



  • Enlist the HR department to connect the new manager to training. For example, a basic training program should be outlined over the course of the first year. It would typically include sessions in how to conduct performance reviews, how to hire and fire, and other fundamental management responsibilities. It’s surprising how few companies offer even these basics for new leaders. Ideally, the skills are taught in an interactive and experiential environment.



  • Provide management roundtables for ongoing development. Roundtables can be informal, such as lunch-n-learns, where a topic is explored in a case-study format. New managers will learn a lot from participating with experienced peers to discuss issues and how to handle them.


You’d invest time and money implementing a new software program to get the bugs out and make sure everyone knew how to use it, so why wouldn’t you invest in the most critical resource you have?

Joan Lloyd is an executive coach, organizational & leadership development strategist. Email your question to her at info@joanlloyd.com, visit www.JoanLloyd.com to search an archive of more than 1400 of Joan’s articles. She can be reached at (800) 348-1944 or (414) 354-9500.

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