Accelerated Leadership & Unexpected Risks
One behind-the-scenes consequence of the pandemic was the number of seasoned leaders who left the corporate world. Whether they were surprised by it with layoffs, guided toward it with early retirement or chose it of their own volition, the departure of seasoned leaders created a wide gap and broad opportunities for new leaders to step up.
It has brought new energy and fresh ideas to the leadership table…as well as some unexpected risks. In most companies, it was an intentional choice and an understood risk to pull forward less experienced leaders. And what we’re now seeing that companies didn’t consider was that the lack of experience could lead to a lack of confidence, which is paralyzing to a leader.
Here’s an example of the conversation that we’ve had with hundreds of these new leaders:
“In the last year, I moved up two levels and now run a region for our company. It has been an incredible opportunity for me and one that I didn’t expect to get for another five years. I’ve settled in with the five teams that now report to me, and we have begun to build a new way of working together. It was going smoothly until I dealt with a manufacturing delay. It happened a week before our senior leadership meeting where I planned to talk about the delay and ask for ideas for solving it. And that was a rookie mistake!
In less than five minutes, it was clear this was not the place to talk through “my” issue. The manufacturing delay, while not my fault, was my responsibility and no one in that room wanted to solve it with me. I felt foolish for bringing it up and embarrassed that I didn’t know how to resolve it.
And that’s when I realized the difference between me and the peers in the room was experience. I lost my confidence in that first meeting, and I’ve been trying to get it back ever since.”
For many leaders, confidence comes with experience. Every situation isn’t the same, but years of experience builds a repertoire of managing conflicts and bringing enough gravitas to discussions to drive toward a resolution. That isn’t easy if your repertoire is a few specific experiences vs. years of on-the-job training.
And it’s magnified by two other dynamics:
First, many corporate cultures feel “training” ends when someone reaches a director level. So, new leaders aren’t likely to feel comfortable seeking traditional training to strengthen their skills. And in many companies, it doesn’t even exist at the right level with the right focus.
Second, when these leaders were managers, they talked openly about uncertainty with their teams. They got kudos for being open and authentic. That has risks for a leader. It’s one thing for employees to know a manager isn’t sure; it’s a very different feeling for employees when they know a leader is unsure.
And that’s why new leaders, and the leadership development teams who support them, are looking for new ways to strengthen personal confidence and expand executive learning.
There is an accelerated way to build confidence, but it requires a new leader to have good resources and make good choices in five key areas.
Here’s how we guide a new leader through the choices:
Reset Your Own Expectations – It may seem contrite, but many new leaders think about their roles as the next step beyond a seasoned manager. It’s not. It’s a big leap. When we engage with a leader, a common question is “Why does communication matter so much now? I’ve always had pretty good success influencing groups to date.” Well, expectations go up overnight. “Pretty good “ on a manager is “not good enough” on a leader.
Brand Your Superpower – While you may not have the experience of your peers, you do bring new thinking to a leadership team. Make sure this shows up quickly among your new peer group. Leaders are rarely subject matter experts. Instead, they bring a superpower that most companies are counting on to accelerate results and find new opportunities.
Build a Feedback Loop – As a new leader, you need to know your blind spots, and you need real-time insight on where you aren’t having impact. No one is going to tell you. It’s risky to give a leader feedback, and even if you get honest input from a few, you’re relying on them to represent the perspective of a large group. Add a feedback loop into the communication process you put in place. Make it easy and safe for employees to provide feedback and reaction.
Know Your Skill Gaps – As I mentioned, you may not “learn” what you need to know in the traditional training format. That’s OK; you can find other ways and resources to continue to build out your skill set. But recognize that you need to continue to build it out. We help new leaders build a development plan that includes a blend of training for specific tools and 1:1 coaching for personal guidance.
Create a Support System – While it gets harder to ask for “help” internally, you can find a lot of support among peers in similar functions outside your company. Whether you get to a peer group through an industry cohort or you build your own cohort less formally, there are peers who are also settling into accelerated careers. A good sounding board and shared experiences builds trust and support quickly.
The concept of accelerating leaders has brought some unexpected gaps within organizations. But the gaps don’t have to widen. In fact, the steps above can narrow the gap quickly. There is unlimited opportunity for today’s new leaders; they just need a little help jumping in with momentum. Today’s leaders will gain experience in new and different ways, and it’s a topic we’re passionate about.
If you’re a new leader or you’re trying to help a group of new leaders build confidence, we’d like to share more about our approach.
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