Leadership Development and the Promotion to Front-line Leadership

March 13, 2019 by Wally Bock

Leadership development programs abandon new front-line leaders just when they need help the most. Kevin Eikenberry gets it right in his post, “One Thing Organizations Must Provide New Supervisors.”

“Every day, in organizations everywhere, people are promoted to their first leadership role. They receive titles like supervisor, lead, foreman, or front-line leader. Those titles matter less than the situation – people are moving from doing the work to leading the work. And every day, these people are congratulated, patted on the back, and sent into their future. They are scared, excited, anxious, and likely unclear about what is now expected of them.”

How much help do new leaders get? Not much. Joseph Folkman discovered a significant number of new front-line leaders got no training at all. He also found that those who did waited, on average, eight years for their first training. That’s a lot of time to develop bad habits.

All that might be fine if it was easy to go from individual contributor to leader. It’s not. Here’s how Mark Busine and Evan Sinar of DDI describe the situation.

“Our research into leadership transitions shows that a leadership transition is among life’s most challenging adjustments, ranking up there with personal illness and major life events, and that just one in three leaders feels effective at handling the challenges associated with a new leadership role.”

Moving from individual contributor to leader is more like a career change than a job change. The transition is hard. It’s also sudden. Most new front-line leaders were individual contributors just the day before.  

Failure to navigate the rocks and shoals of the first leadership transition is one reason so many managers are so bad. The question is, what can we do?

Leadership Development and Preparation for Promotion

Leadership programs should help front-line leaders while they’re still individual contributors. Use brief developmental assignments, so the individual contributor gets to experience leadership. It will help him or her decide if it’s the right move. Those same assignments can help your company assess how ready an individual is for promotion. 

There are two big challenges in the pre-promotion stage. One is to help the aspiring leader decide whether leadership is for them. The other is for the company to determine whether an individual is willing and ready for promotion.

Leadership Development During the Transition Period

Your company can boost your promotional success rate if you understand basic facts about the transition. It’s not quick; some leaders take as long as two years to learn to handle the basics of their new job. They need both training and support for the entire transition period. 

Train the new leader on specific skills. Train in short bursts, not widely-spaced multi-day programs. Coaches and the front-line leader’s new peers can provide insight and ongoing support. 

Leadership Development Bottom Line

Transitioning from individual contributor to front-line leader is one of the most difficult times in a person’s life. Your leadership development program can make it easier and increase the success rate by providing guidance, training, and support before promotion and through the entire transition period.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Leadership Development, Uncategorized

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