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Giving New Leaders a Strong Start

May 25th, 2017

By: Karen Colligan

Imagine yourself in the shoes of someone who has just been promoted to their first leadership role. This may have been you some years ago. Or perhaps you are early in your career and it’s something you aspire to. Either way, chances are you felt/would feel: excited, proud, curious, and maybe just a tad bit…anxious. What’s expected of me? What will change? Will I succeed? How…do…I…lead?

As I discussed in my last blog, Sink or Swim is Not Leadership Development, all too often new leaders are thrown into the role and left to their own devices for answers to these questions. Expectations are not clarified until the unspoken goes unmet. No preparation for the change in peer relationships and broader accountability. And the answer to “how do I lead?” usually becomes, “the way I’ve been led,” which isn’t necessarily the path to success.

Organizations need to give new leaders a strong start with a well-defined and consistently implemented leadership development program. In the course of my career, I’ve created and delivered many leadership initiatives. Here are what I’ve found to be “best practices” when developing new leaders.

Duration. Conduct the training over at least a 6-month period to allow for shorter sessions, application of new learning, and feedback. Learning is a process, not an event.

Mentor. Each new leader should have a seasoned leader mentor. Ideally, this is someone other than their immediate leader.

Commitment. Both the new leader and their immediate leader sign a contract committing to the development program. The new leader to participate and complete it, the immediate leader to support and reinforce the learning.

Regularly scheduled short workshops. These can be weekly or bi-weekly, but should be regularly scheduled over the course of the program and a priority for all involved. (This is where the commitment comes in). For weekly workshops, I recommend two hours on the same day each week. For bi-weekly, you may want to go a little bit longer. Topics should be built around what it means to be a leader in your organization – expectations and responsibilities, managing vs. leading. I also recommend including sessions on effective communication, resolving conflict, team building, coaching employees, and transitioning from peer to leader.

Self-discovery workshop. The best leaders are self-aware. Giving new leaders the opportunity to understand themselves – how they communicate, how they interact, how they are likely to lead – early on, increases the likelihood that they will adapt successfully to the role. I use the Lumina Spark assessment for this. Done in a workshop setting, it also helps leaders gain a better understanding of others, which will help them successfully lead the individuals on their teams.

Individual Development Plans. Throughout the program, participants should be receiving regular feedback from their immediate leader as well as guidance and feedback from their mentor. Upon graduation from the program, each participant should work with his/her leader to identify strengths and development areas to create a 12-month IDP.

A few other components I’ve also used in the past with positive results are: a syllabus of reading materials – books, white papers, articles, on leadership topics; having participants work in teams to research and present on one of the topics outlined in the program; and creating a “New Leader Forum” where new leaders get together to share issues and ideas, with alternating senior leader facilitators.

“Winning companies win because they have good leaders who nurture the development of other leaders at all levels of the organization.” — Noel Tichy

Till next time,


Leadership, leadership development, learning and development, New leaders

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Sink or Swim is Not Effective Leadership Development

May 17th, 2017

By: Karen Colligan

Organizations spend a fair amount of their corporate training dollars on leadership development. And the biggest chunk goes toward senior leaders and executives, instead of to those who need it most -  first time, frontline leaders. All too often these new leaders are put in a “sink or swim” situation as they try to navigate the transition from individual contributor to people leader.

A survey of HR leaders and practitioners conducted by the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found that “the sink or swim mindset toward new managers is ubiquitous.” Although 96% of respondents said that frontline managers are vital to driving business success, only 48% felt that their organizations adequately invested in frontline manager development.

In an article for Harvard Business Review, author Victor Lipman said, “As I neared the end of my corporate days, I realized I’d received much more management training in the last five years than I did in the first 20 years - when I really needed it - combined."  Lipman is the author of The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World.

Most people are promoted into their first leadership role as a result of their high performance as an individual contributor and/or because of their technical skills. Yet what helped them succeed as an individual, will not necessarily contribute to their success as a people leader – where the challenges and responsibilities require a different set of skills. In that same HCI survey, respondents were asked to rank the must-have skills for frontline managers in order of importance. Technical expertise was ranked as Number 7, preceded by:

  1. Ethics and integrity

  2. Communicates effectively

  3. Drives for results/motivation to succeed

  4. Flexibility/adaptability

  5. Develops effective teams

  6. Maintains relationships with internal stakeholders

  7. While some of these skills might be inherent in a new leader, being able to apply them effectively while adapting to leading people – understanding individual strengths, motivators, skill gaps, personalities and how those individuals work together as a team, being accountable not just for their work but for the work of others – requires coaching and support.  Not to mention the challenge that many internally promoted leaders face – transitioning from buddy to boss.

    New leader training needs to be a key component of every organization’s learning and development plan. And it should not be just a one-day event around policies, performance reviews and disciplinary actions.  It needs to be structured in a way that gives participants time to apply their learning, receive feedback, and get the ongoing support necessary (mentoring, coaching) to grow into the next line of senior leaders and executives.

    Managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement. Actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity, according to Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workplace report.

    Isn’t it worth increasing your investment in time and training to develop effective leaders – from the very beginning?

    Till next time,


    Leadership, learning and development, New leaders

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