Every day, someone gets promoted to be “the boss.” Often, they get promoted from within a team to lead a team of former peers and friends. This is a situation fraught with challenge and offering great opportunity.
I’m not alone in recognizing the challenges. My friend Mike Figliuolo conducted an unscientific poll asking about awkward work situations. Two of the four responses related to the new boss being a former member of the team; specifically:
- Becoming the boss after being a peer with my team members: 24.98%
- A peer becoming my boss: 24.09%
Far more than just awkward though, the transition to a firstrole is extremely important to the organization and that new leader.
Think about it this way: The organization needs someone to succeed in the role of leader for a variety of reasons. When leadership is weaker than it could be opportunities won’t be captured, productivity will be reduced, costs may increase, quality or safety may be impacted (and a host of other things). Of course the success of the individual is important too—not just in the short term for that person's confidence and ability to do the work, but because when we learn new skills and apply them, we create habits. If we aren’t helping people start with the right habits, we are hampering their leadership growth for the rest of their careers.
So helping these new leaders is important; but how do we do it? Here is a short list.
Make it a priority. New leaders have to lead on day one. Without support they will do the best they can, but wouldn’t it be better if they had that initial support? (Hint: Getting them into the corporate new supervisor training “the next time it is available” is useful, but that alone isn’t making them a priority.)
Set clear expectations. Job descriptions rarely describe all of the leadership components of a job, let alone discuss the specific expectations. Work with those new leaders to understand the expectations you have of them, what the organization expects of them, and what they should expect of themselves.
Talk about it. You can’t set expectations without a conversation, but the conversation needs to be broader than just that. You can’t promote people, pat them on the back, give them a new office and then leave. Have a conversation about their fears, concerns and needs. Then take action on what you learn.
Give them resources. If you have internal company resources—intranets, training or mentoring programs—get them included and involved as quickly as possible. If you don’t have those options, or want to augment them, connect them with external resources as well (personally, I recommend my book From Bud to Boss, the accompanying online free community or our public workshops).
Take them to lunch. After a couple of weeks, get them out of the workplace for lunch. Have a meal and a chat. Ask them how it is going, then shut up and listen. Find out what questions they are having, and answer them. This is a meal where you should be finished eating long before them because they are doing most of the talking.
The specifics of what each new leader will need will be as different as those people themselves. These steps will help get them off on the right foot, and just as importantly will let them know they are not alone on an unknown leadership island.
You remember—that first leadership role isn’t easy. By using your experience and taking these simple steps you can help make it easier for those who follow you.