The Quantum Leap
It’s happened in companies across the globe.
In the last two years, seasoned leaders retired at a rate 60% higher than the pre-pandemic average. And whether they were pushed out, walked out or took advantage of the crisis at hand, they created gaps in the leadership and knowledge experience in companies.
Those gaps have created opportunities for millennials who are the largest generation in the workforce. The oldest millennials turn 40 this year. And when you look at the age of people who are in management roles today, it’s split down the middle between leaders who are under 45 and those who are over.
So, it’s fair to say that there’s less tenure in leadership.
And the question is: Are the new leaders ready?
In many ways, yes. Young leaders bring a new way of thinking, a new way of working and some of the skills that will help companies evolve to the next generation of products and services. But the gap that’s a little trickier to solve for is leadership skills. And as these new leaders settle in, we’re seeing gaps in their experience as well as a lack of awareness about just how different their new role is.
Every new leader says: “It’s more different than I thought it would be.” They assumed that moving from managing a team to running a division or organization would leverage their existing skill set. But they quickly see that the role is very different and the experiences that they’ve had as managers don’t easily transfer.
One area where it shows up quickly is communication.
Leaders communicate differently than managers. Not because they’ve changed, but because the expectations have. And while previous leaders had an opportunity to experience the shift in expectations as they moved up a corporate ladder, the millennial leaders stepped up fast and the skills just haven’t developed.
How can it be so different? It’s just people talking to people, right? Well, people are at the root of the difference.
For a new leader, relationships aren’t the same. When you step up to run an organization of teams versus a single team, you just don’t know people as well. Layers are added, and your ability to see how things are done and trust that things are getting done blurs. You have to work through others in a different way. You have to let go of details, empower others and trust. That’s hard. And most new leaders say it’s a significant shift in understanding how you should lead.
For an organization, everything about leadership is communication. Employees want to know where the organization is going; they want to feel inspired and motivated to work toward a destination and an outcome. No more meetings run with notes on a napkin; leaders have to put the time and effort into being effective every time they communicate.
Add to it the immediacy of those expectations. Leaders aren’t allowed to be “first-time” leaders the way they were allowed to be “first-time” managers. There’s no “on-the-job” training for leaders; you have to show up ready to go.
That’s why the increase in coaching mirrors the increase in retirements. Giving a new leader the support to develop a stronger toolkit and the guidance to understand expectations makes the difference in those who settle in well or those who find themselves trying to recover from missteps throughout their first year.
It’s a quantum leap to step up to leadership, and there are three broad areas where we guide the transition.
MESSAGING: Managers who are good at inspiring groups are standouts. Leaders who can’t do it…fail fast. Messaging goes from an asset to a requirement overnight. The impact of not doing well is felt quickly, and the most common feedback we hear when a new leader is struggling is the inability to inspire a large group.
We coach leaders on how to build messaging effectively and to think about the big themes as part of an ongoing communication plan and strategy. A leader’s focus on clarity can accelerate work productivity and lift morale quickly. The lack of clarity or direction from a leader can stall organizations and lead to disengagement or attrition. Clear communication becomes one of the most critical skills to understand and master quickly.
PERSONAL BRAND: Many of the millennial leaders are being promoted from within a company. That means that employees are being asked to see a colleague or a former manager differently. It’s not an easy transition, and we work with new leaders to be intentional about how people experience their brand in a bigger role. Interestingly, because they are younger, their resumes alone don’t give instant credibility. They have to earn respect and they often feel as if they’re trying to prove themselves for several months. While leaders build relationships with their direct reports, they find it hard to influence the broader group that they don’t know well. They need to build internal tools for feedback, insights and a pulse on how the organization is feeling and reacting to their leadership.
CONNECTION: New leaders hear the pressure to shift their skills, but they want to find their own, authentic way to get there. They quickly miss the connection they were used to as a manager and the involvement they had in working side by side with others. They need new ways to connect with people and engage the entire employee base. Employees see them differently, and leaders search for ways to deliver consistently on all the expectations in a way that is both authentic and effective for them. We help leaders find their way to drive engagement across their organizations.
It’s a quantum leap from managing a team to leading an organization. And the difference in those who make the leap well will be based, in part, on the support they get to accelerate their own journey and settle confidently into a leadership role.
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