Developing a New Leader

For some inexplicable reason, there is a tendency to pick someone as the next manager and give them no training for their leadership role. Senior leaders will watch the new manager flounder and eventually proclaim that they “just weren’t leadership material.” There are many sources of leadership training available of which some organizations take advantage and some don’t, but training for your new leader must extend beyond those short training opportunities. Real leadership training occurs day-to-day, on the job, and builds on those fundamentals.

The leader’s trainer must accept that, just like training for a new employee, training a new leader will require some time and effort. In many ways, leadership can be more complex than the skills being led. When your new leader starts, what you do as a trainer will determine what sort of leader they become. Here are some actions to help your new leader excel.

1. Start by delegating small tasks. I don’t recommend the sink-or-swim technique at this point. It’s usually not smart to start with a major project upon which hinges the future of the company. Yes, this means you may have to cover for some things while your new leader learns the ropes; it’s just like training any new employee. Give good directions, make your expectations clear, and ensure they understand the desired outcome and any do’s and don’ts along the way. You may need to step in and make course corrections, but not too quickly. They won’t learn to think for themselves if they know you’re going to be right there to answer all the questions.

2. Your trainee needs to see the tough side of leadership early on. That doesn’t mean you leave them stranded in the desert, but don’t coddle them either. Failure is a natural part of life; no one wins all the time. Learning how to handle failure is an important lesson for leaders. The sooner they start to develop a thick skin, the better. When they mess something up or make the wrong decision you need to tell them about it. Hold them accountable. Too many leaders develop an attitude that they can blame others for their mistakes. That doesn’t mean you chop off their head at the first mistake. Instead, make the effects of their decision clear, then help them determine a better course of action.

3. Encourage new leaders to take risks. This is very hard to do because their risk is your risk as well, and their failure is your responsibility. A good leader has to be able to assess risk and decide what is worth taking and what isn’t. A good way to approach this is to sit down and discuss the idea you feel might be risky. Have the trainee explain all the pros and cons and explain why they think one outweighs the other. You’ll probably need to fill in some blanks learned from your own experience.

4. Celebrate their success. That doesn’t mean constant cheering for every little thing. But, when they have done something well, tell them. It’s very easy to only criticize, but positive reinforcement is a much better motivator and teacher.

Training leaders is not an easy job. Just like any other skill in your organization, talent and expertise is built over time. Training first time leaders will have benefits far beyond their initial success.

Bob Mason is a speaker, trainer, and author of “Planning to Excel: Strategic Planning That Works.” With 30 years of leadership experience he founded RLM Planning and Leadership with the mission to transform leadership by developing great leaders. See what he can do for you at

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