When Developing New Leaders, Help Them with the People Work

Ideally, managers will teach the people work, then support and guide the leader in their new role in regular one-on-ones, every step of the way.

Superstars often become managers. They become known as one of the best at their job—one of those with specialized abilities, skills, or knowledge—and are given more and more work as a result. Over time, they need people to help with the extra work. They are given helpers to supervise, maybe informally at first. Eventually, these superstars find they’re full-fledged managers.

They may be taught how to complete the additional paperwork that comes with their new managerial responsibilities. But rarely are people taught how to be managers. Instead, most are forced to develop their own management style on an ad hoc basis, struggle, and finally conclude maybe they are not management material after all.

Too many new managers find themselves stuck in one situation after another, struggling with management responsibilities nobody taught them how to handle. They go through much of their careers thinking, “I’m not a natural leader. I’m a…(you fill in the blank.)”

So how can you help your direct reports successfully transition into new leadership roles?

Real Transformational Leadership

I hear from managers all the time who are struggling to get someone on their team to the “next level”—whatever that next level may be. The employee in question is either resistant to the change or simply not a people person. The manager sees the employee’s potential but can’t seem to unlock it. When this issue arises, managers often start asking about “transformational leadership.” Is there such a thing? What is it?

Surely there are some leaders—some great and some not—who contribute significantly to changes in the quality of the individuals they lead. My view of transformational leadership is less romantic. I don’t imagine the typical charismatic figure inspiring some deep, otherworldly commitment in employees. That rarely happens. In most real-world situations, transformational leadership is more accessible than the magical or profound version.

Real transformational leadership almost always occurs when a leader has taken the time to build a relationship of trust and confidence over a long period of time, through regular, high-quality communication. Not all longstanding one-on-one dialogues become transformational, of course. But I would argue that only the rarest of leadership relationships could become truly transformational without first building on an extended period of regular, ongoing, high-quality communication.

Managers must take care of all the regular transactional aspects of the relationship first. Remember, people are working because they need to take care of themselves and their families. Second is the organization’s mission and their ability to contribute to the mission. Managers must take care of those two aspects before they can hope to have a transformational effect on anyone.

10 Ways to Support New Leaders with the People Work

What do new managers need most of all? They need support and guidance in learning and practicing the fundamentals of management—the people work. The person best equipped to do that is typically the new leader’s manager. It is up to them to make sure the new leader is fully prepared to take on additional responsibilities and authority. Ideally, managers will teach the people work, then support and guide the leader in their new role in regular one-on-ones, every step of the way.

There are 10 ways managers can support their new leaders with the people work:

1. Regularly remind the new leader this role carries real authority. It is a huge responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

2. Go over exactly what their new leadership responsibilities look like—together. Make this a conversation. Don’t just ask for but require their input. How do they envision the ideal working conditions for their team? What role would they have to play to support those ideal conditions? Start from there.

3. Explain that management entails much more than completing some extra paperwork. You should not only explain what the people work is in detail, but also how that work adds tangible value for the new leader, their team, and the larger organization. In short: When managers are highly-engaged and support the individual efforts of their direct reports, performance improves.

4. Create standard operating procedures for managing and teach them to all new leaders (both formal and informal). Focus on the fundamentals, such as spelling out expectations for every employee, following up regularly, tracking performance closely in writing, and holding people accountable.

5. Announce new leaders to the whole team, no matter the size of the leadership role. Articulate the nature of this person’s new authority and explain the standard operating procedures for management you have asked the new leader to follow.

6. Check in regularly with new leaders. Ask about the management challenges they are facing. Regularly walk through the standard operating procedures for managing people. Do this more often than you think you have to at first. Calibrate from there.

7. Early on, you may want to consider shadowing the new leader’s team meetings or one-on-ones with team members. Having specific and direct feedback on their performance in these situations can help boost a new leader’s management skills and confidence. Do everything you can to reinforce their authority with the team. But make sure to take every opportunity you can to help new leaders refine and improve their management techniques.

8. Pay close attention every step of the way and evaluate the leader in their new role. Start focusing in your regular one-on-ones on exactly how the new leader is doing the work of managing. Ask probing questions about each employee the new manager is supposed to be managing: “When did you last meet with employee #1? What did you hope to accomplish? What did you talk about? What is #2 working on?” And so on.

9. If you want your new manager to focus on something in particular with their employees, spell it out. If you want your manager to carry a specific message to their employees, hammer away at that message. Write it down. Talk it through. Make it clear you’re requiring them to pass along that message as part of their responsibilities.

10. Remember that every manager’s first responsibility is managing. Of course, you’ll also need to talk about non-management responsibilities with your new leader. But continually bring the focus back to their No. 1 priority.

With this kind of sustained, hands-on transactional leadership development effort and constant evaluation, managers can have a truly transformational impact by developing new leaders.

Bruce Tulgan is a best-selling author and the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, a management research and training firm. He is the author of numerous books, including “It’s Okay to Be the Boss,” “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy,” and “The 27 Challenges Managers Face.” His newest book, “The Art of Being Indispensable at Work,” is due for release in the summer of 2020 from Harvard Business Review Press. You can follow Tulgan on Twitter @BruceTulgan or visit his Website at: rainmakerthinking.com.



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