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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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Possibilities Abound as Baby Boomers Retire

February 13th, 2017

By: Karen Colligan

A few years back, when the first baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) began to reach retirement age, there was much written about the impending brain drain as boomers left the workforce. How would we transfer their knowledge? Who would step up to be leaders? Companies were advised to quickly put succession plans in place. And then…the economy tanked and boomers stayed in place and the crisis seemed averted.  Now, however, another wave of boomers has hit the mark and concern is bubbling up again.

A cover story last month in the San Francisco Business Times entitled, “From Boomers to Bust?” suggested that “the pace of retirements among baby boomers is about to explode, and it has big consequences for the Bay Area Economy and its workforce.” The impact will be felt more in the Bay Area, the article says, because in addition to the population being older in the region than the rest of California, “the area is in the process of adding more than 1 million jobs by 2040, with talent shortages already a factor across a range of industries.”

Nationwide, an estimated 10,000 boomers a day celebrate their 65th birthday.  And according to Gallup, by 2029, 20% of the population will be over 65. Clearly, companies have some serious workforce planning to do, especially those with an older employee base.

That being said, if we look at this situation through the lens of possibilities, I see some real opportunities for both boomers and those who would follow in their footsteps.

While many boomers are anxious to leave the pace and politics of corporate life, not all of them dream of replacing that with more leisurely pursuits. In fact, quite a few plan to keep working in some capacity – either for financial reasons or for a sense of purpose.  If this applies to you, then get busy preparing to capture the possibilities. This might be any of the following or none of them (leisure on!). You’re at a place where it’s entirely up to you. Here are some possibilities:

    • Work with your current employer to reduce hours or create a more flexible schedule

    • Become a mentor to help prepare the next line of leaders

    • Turn your hobby into a side business (e.g., become a small space gardener)

    • Leverage the skills you’ve built over the years and consult

    • Volunteer for a cause that’s important to you

For those who are just starting out or are several years into their career, the exodus of baby boomers can open doors (and windows!) of opportunity, especially in leadership. The key is to have a growth mindset (always be learning) and to leverage some tips from the Year of Possibilities framework:

Pay attention to what’s around you. Where are the opportunities? What do you need to do to get there? Take a personal skill /behavior inventory. Get feedback from others. Use it!

Listen…really listen. Think about a team or department leader you admire. Set up an informational interview to gain knowledge and insight on how to lead successfully in the organization. Listen and take notes. Create an action plan. Implement it.

Dream Big. If you don’t dream for yourself, no one else will.  You don’t want a “regret list,” you want a “possibility list.”  Say what you want out loud.  Tell your friends, family and partner.  The more you say it, the more real it becomes.

And whether you’re a boomer or movin’ on up, don’t stop believin’!

Till next time,


Career planning, Possibilities, Professional development

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Invest in Your People – Invest in Your Future

July 29th, 2014

By: Karen Colligan

Employee engagement has been a hot topic for awhile now, with some pretty staggering statistics around engaged vs. disengaged employees and their respective business impact.  A number of studies have shown that companies with engaged employees fare much better than their counterparts with employees who rate themselves as partially or fully disengaged.

To get a closer view on what’s happening in corporate today, PeopleThink interviewed human resources professionals across a variety of industries – hi-tech, biotech, professional services, architecture, nonprofit and healthcare. Despite differences in their core businesses, when it comes to the people component, there were a number of common themes that emerged:  keeping employees engaged and motivated, retaining top talent, having the right people in the right positions, and ensuring that there is sufficient “bench strength” for the next line of leadership.  Here are some of their comments.

“We need to continue to invest in the people infrastructure. Our employees need to have development plans in place so they can see there is a future with the organization.”

“We have to put the needs and future of our organization first, and then plan backwards: provide development and promotion opportunities; recruit the right talent.”

Build the talent road map. What will the organization’s people needs be one to three years out? What competencies? What level of employees? Build the talent plan to move, grow and flex with the organization’s business needs.”

It’s important to maintain company culture. One of the things I hear on a regular basis is that people want to work here because of the culture and how employees are treated. It comes from the top. How we treat people is how we keep our people.”

Each leader of the organization needs to have a successor they are training and preparing for the next role. Leadership can be viewed as a second-tier component of the business; however, what we know is that without strong leadership, the organization will not be able to sustain its growth.”

The clear message is that organizations need to recognize that their people are the lifeblood of the business. Don’t take your employees for granted. As the economy continues to improve and there are options for them elsewhere, you want to keep those employees in your organization.  Find creative ways to develop and challenge them. Let them know they are valued, and that they are a critical component to the business moving forward.  Build succession plans to ensure that your bench strength is available and ready to grow the business.

And most of all, don’t forget the old adage…treat your employees the way you want to be treated. It will pay off in leaps and bounds in the future.

Till next time,





Engagement, Leadership, People, Performance, Professional development, Succession planning, Uncategorized

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Building Your Bench Strength – The 4 Key Steps

October 15th, 2012

By: Karen Colligan

As the economy begins to rebound and more opportunities become available, many companies will be faced with the harsh reality of losing their brightest stars. Worn down from increased workloads and fewer perks and growth opportunities, high potential employees will be quick to answer the call to greener pastures.

Companies succeed in large part because of strong leadership. And yet, according to a recent ASTD (American Society for Training and Development) study, less than half of the companies surveyed had plans in place to ensure ongoing leadership strength. Of those who did have succession plans in place, only 14% characterized their succession plans as effective.

Effective succession planning involves four key steps:

  1. Identify the critical talent needed – key skills and competencies

  2. Create individual development plans for high potential employees, based on the key skills and competencies needed, and connect those plans to corporate goals

  3. Communicate the succession plan to targeted individuals so they know they have a stake in the future of the company and vice versa

  4. Validate and improve the program through employee feedback and measurable results

As companies focus less on how to survive and more on how to thrive, succession planning becomes a key strategic lever. Knowledge and wisdom from leaders need to be transferred to those on the bench. High potential employees need to be retained and developed to guide the organization to the next level. And a plan for continually supplying the leadership pipeline needs to become a part of the culture.

Succession planning is not a nice to have. It is a must have.

Till next time,


Leadership, Professional and team leadership, Succession planning

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