Making New Leaders

For those of us that dreamt of being a leader and made it a reality at some point, you probably found that what you thought it would be like was different from reality.  Before reaching the goal of being the boss, most spend a considerable amount of effort analyzing each opportunity for its value, leveraging each relationship, and adjusting strategies to address the changing environment.  The sheer determination to succeed overshadows almost everything else.  Once we make it, we are elated, but many times exhausted.  What happens after success is of critical success to every organization.  However, most new leaders find there are even more constraints on creating success as a leader than as an employee.

When becoming a leader, there is almost always a steep learning curve.  The skills necessary to be a personal success are differs from those that motivate and guide others.  Even if you were fortunate enough to have received training earlier in your career, actually practicing those concepts can be a challenge when dealing with real processes and people.  There is a whole vocabulary of euphemisms to compare successful management to possessing complicated skills, winning a game, or succeeding at war.  So, what are some of the challenges that new leaders encounter?

Figure 1: New Leader External Challenges

In the simplest sense, challenges can be divided between those that pertain to the new leaders themselves as well as external or environmental in nature.  Figure 1 captures the external or environmental issues that a new leader most often encounters based on a HCS survey of 600 new managers.

A lack of relevant skills or understanding of how to be successful as a leader is the most notated concern.  On a regular basis, I hear from new managers that the complexity of the change in job is overwhelming and more preparation would have been beneficial.  Lack of empowerment as well as resources are approximately second.

One of the most frustrating revelations to a new leader is that anticipated power and freedom rarely match reality.  A new leader assumes that he or she will be allowed to make the changes necessary to improve operations, yet that is rarely the case.  Influence of higher level management, previous attitudes, organizational culture, available resources, and regulations all play a role in how much freedom there is to actually improve operations.

Similarly, the resources available significantly enhance or diminish the chance of success. If a leader has the wrong staff, not enough resources, or poorly supported processes, new resources are essential to improvement.

Another common plight is when a new leader is promoted, but does not have the support of more senior leaders.  Due to inability, professional jealousy, or other concerns, senior leaders may fail to support the actions of those that supervise at a lower level.  Without the backing of senior management, a new leader will lose credibility and trust of his or her staff.

More than a third felt that they have to lead in an environment of impossible expectations from those above and below.  New leaders are a readily available source of work reassignment from higher level leaders and viewed as the primary source for issue resolution among staff.

A lack of operational knowledge and personality issues complete the selected options.  In some cases, the leader has not performed the job of those he or she supervises creating challenges in credibility and capability, while other times the personalities of the team prove to be a significant challenge.

Over the next several posts, we will explore the challenges of being a new leader in more detail.

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