Who Are Accidental Leaders?

Organizations of all sizes are filling critical management positions with new managers. While those employees may be functional experts in their area or field, they often also lack the leadership skills they need to succeed in their new roles.

These leaders aren’t characterized by a certain demographic, age, or level. What they do have in common is insufficient training.

With inadequate preparation to meet the demands of their new jobs, these first-time and frontline managers are at risk of career derailment as they struggle with interpersonal relationships and adapting to change, and lack a broad, strategic orientation that is necessary for delivering the business results expected of them.

Here are steps your organization can use to support its first-time and first-level managers.

Identify and develop key competencies.

Have you identified the existing skills of your new leaders? Have you clarified what skills they need to develop in order to succeed in their new roles? Leaders at different levels of an organization face different challenges, but there are timeless competencies needed by leaders throughout an organization, regardless of role, industry, or location.

Step 1: Cultivate the core leadership skills leaders need to succeed.

Whether you’re helping a first-time manager or a senior executive, there are fundamental skills to focus on:

  • Develop their self-awareness so they understand personal strengths and weaknesses, while acknowledging gaps in their skillsets.
  • Improve their communication to ensure that they write and speak clearly and have strong active listening skills.
  • Teach them how to influence others toward their vision and align team efforts, while building commitment.
  • Develop their learning agility by equipping them to reflect on, and grow from, their experiences.

Step 2: Help new managers use feedback data.

With data from 360-degree feedback surveys, your leaders will be equipped to assess their strengths and weaknesses. Help them understand how to approach assessment feedback in a way that will give them the most value:

  • Invite the right people to provide feedback — make sure it’s those that the new manager works with on a frequent basis and encourage them to be direct and honest.
  • Motivate your new leader to be open to the results once feedback is received, and to accept the positive as well as the negative.
  • Remind them to look at the big picture when they examine their feedback report and get the help of a coach to pinpoint key insights and action items.
  • Help them set realistic goals based on what they’ve learned and what they’re motivated to change about their leadership approach.
  • Monitor their progress. Have them share their development plan with their boss and colleagues, then be sure to have the first-time manager check in with those people periodically to discuss growth.

Work to tailor the development of new managers to their needs in order to boost their leadership capabilities. Help them build a foundation of great leadership.

Clarify the challenges they face from their shift in role. Common challenges when becoming a new manager include engaging, motivating, and coaching others, particularly when the team now includes their former peers. Give them a clear path forward by equipping them to communicate effectively with their direct reports.

Create continuity in learning by going beyond one-off training. Tie development for new managers to goal setting, action planning, individualized coaching, and accountability partners to maintain learning over the long term.

How CCL Can Help

Enroll your leaders in our Maximizing Your Leadership Potential program, which smooths the transition from individual contributor to effective manager. Participants will learn to boost the commitment and engagement of their team, build stronger and more sustainable relationships, respond to conflict, and adjust their leadership styles in problem-solving.

Best For: New managers and those hoping to be promoted into a manager role.

Set your new leaders up for success.

Step 1: Be honest about the unique challenges new managers face.

The transition they face isn’t easy. There are at least a dozen common challenges managers face when they move from focusing on their own work as individual contributors to leading the work of others.

New managers need to learn how to lead team achievement. It’s a new experience for them to give directions to team members and monitor group organization and deadlines. Their success is no longer just about them — it’s also about getting the work done through others.

At the same time, they’re working to develop managerial and personal effectiveness. These managers still need to operate as productive employees themselves while leading other employees — management of time and stress is key.

So is relationship management, as these managers start coaching and mentoring others. Your new leaders are now responsible for developing their subordinates’ skills and knowledge, as well as their careers.

Don’t let your first-time or frontline managers feel alone in their transition. Assume that even if they don’t express that they are having a difficult time, they probably are. They may fear admitting that they’re struggling, as if that would prove they didn’t deserve the promotion.

Create learning networks for your new leaders. Mentoring circles are one option, where a few mentors team up with mentees, offering an outlet to discuss successes and failures as new managers. Or, provide opportunities for peers to connect and share with one another. It helps to hear that they’re not alone, that their peers face many of the same issues.

Go so far as to tell new managers they’re supported. Offer feedback and an understanding of the learning curve and give them formal recognition when they’re doing great work. Research shows that when people feel supported by their supervisor and organization, they have higher job satisfaction and are less likely to want to leave the company.

Make sure new leaders are working with constructive and effective self-talk. Encourage them to take the “I” out of the inner dialogue and tell themselves: “You have the ability to learn about leading others. You can be a great boss.”

That comes with flipping their mindsets from individual contributor to team leader, with the power to motivate others to succeed. It comes with changing their perspective from taking on every task to delegating to others in order to increase productivity and a collective sense of trust.

Step 4: Assist them in developing the skills most critical to succeed.

In addition to the core skills every leader needs, frontline managers are more effective if they also develop these key abilities:

  • Political savvy: relating well with internal stakeholders and navigating organizational politics to achieve goals.
  • Motivating others: being able to inspire commitment and recognizing and rewarding the contributions of others.

How CCL Can Help

Get your new leaders involved in Frontline Leader Impact, an online leadership development experience created to transform frontline managers into more effective leaders in your organization.

Best For: New and first-level managers supervising individual contributors, as well as functional leaders currently without direct reports but preparing to lead. Works especially well for geographically dispersed team leaders and those who cannot travel to train.

The Big Picture

Given that first-time and frontline managers are typically an organization’s largest population of leaders, companies need to rethink the criteria for success.

These new leaders need guidance to:

  • Identify and develop key competencies;
  • Effectively accept feedback data;
  • Develop practical knowledge and toolsets;
  • Retrain their mindsets as leaders of former peers;
  • Understand their unique challenges; and
  • Feel supported through it all.

Organizations that invest in setting their new managers up for success through training programs are investing in their greater organizational success. Your organization will transform as your new leaders transform.

Want to talk through it with us?

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