Newbies Forever

Who remembers their first day on the job as a brand-new leader? While many moons ago for me, it is certainly one that I cannot easily forget. The excitement, the nerves, the anticipation… the shear mix of uncertainty and bravado tossed into a blender of inexperience formed how I would see my role as a manager of people for many years to come.

How often have we managed a brand-new leader who experienced some of the same things? Do we even know? How have we intentionally helped them navigate that giant smorgasbord of emotions? Have we always set them up for success in the brand-new situations they would soon face? Throughout my years of experience in working with leaders from multiple generations, I would venture to say that we all have stumbled here.

The path of a brand-new leader is typically a rocky one. If they were a high-performing individual contributor that was recently promoted, often they do not see the eventual stumbling blocks ahead. As a result, they tend to fall back into the old behaviors that made them successful in their previous role... they just work harder. They jump in to take over responsibilities that their new direct reports are supposed to own. They just muscle their way through it. And through all of this, frustration levels rise, confidence levels plummet and productivity declines to the point where their own supervisor may even question why they promoted them in the first place.

The key to smoothing the pathway of a newly promoted, brand-new leader is a simple one. Well, the key is simple, not necessarily the actions that are needed to be taken. All of that requires discipline and clear communication from us as their supervisors. These leaders need to know what to do and how to do it. They need to know why and when things need to be done. And they need to ultimately choose to take action. In essence, they need the Gapology model.

Gapology demonstrates that before these brand-new leaders can be effective, they must have their own Knowledge Gaps, Importance Gaps, and Action Gaps closed.

Although they may be seasoned veterans in your organization, these individuals need to be viewed as brand-new learners. The mindset and skillset required to be successful has dramatically changed. They have moved from simply acting as “doers” to the much more complex levels of “teachers, coaches, and mentors.” The temptation for them to just “do” will be powerful, but they will need to learn how to step back, train, and coach their team to excel.

As senior leaders, we need to understand and embrace the role of mentor and trainer ourselves. We need to provide instruction and practice sessions to instill the necessary knowledge and skills in these new leaders, so much so that those skills become a habit for them.

Consider the Habit Ladder from Gapology

  • We must Communicate the information in ways that fit the learning styles of our trainee. Are they visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners? Most likely they are a blend of these, so we need to mirror that with a blended teaching approach.

  • We then need to validate Understanding of the new knowledge pieces being delivered through questions, and additional probing questions, directed toward the key elements of what we are teaching.

  • Once we have validation that they intellectually understand what is being taught, we must establish Agreement around it. Do they understand and agree to the levels of importance? Do they understand and agree to the potential risks involved in not performing?

  • After the intellectual and emotional stages of the Habit Ladder, we need to begin the physical stages with Practice. Practicing is the most important, but most underutilized step on the ladder. I so often see this step being shortcut or even cut altogether at the learners’ detriment. When teaching a child to ride a bike, would we skip the practice piece and just tell them how to do it and then walk away? Of course not. These brand-new leaders are learning new skills just the same and they need to practice, practice, practice before becoming efficient and effective in them. Most importantly however, they need to practice with a coach at their side. They will fall off that bike from time to time and will need to have an experienced coach there to provide feedback in a blend of clear direction and honest support.

  • Only with a vast amount of practice will these new skills deliver the highest rung on the ladder… Habit.

Think back on your own journey as a brand-new leader. Remember the first time you had to conduct a performance appraisal. How about a counseling session? Or interview, training class, coaching conversation, or guide a team through a major change initiative.

Leadership is not an intuitive thing. Sure, some people pick up on it quicker than others, but everyone needs, and deserves, clear expectations, instructions, and support. We all do.

So next time you consider promoting that top performer on your team, stop and be strategic about how you set them up for long-term success. Will you build that base of knowledge and skills to the Habit Level that they deserve? Or will you toss them to the wolves and let them “just figure it out?” If you choose the latter… you may just be creating newbies forever.

Everyone have a fantastic week. We’ll talk to you soon.

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