Five ways to coach new leaders

Dave Winsborough
February 28, 2023

Every organization across the world believes that it makes rational decisions about promoting people into managerial roles. And nearly every organization is wrong.

Research shows that companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job more than 80% of the time. If we treated aviation safety in the same way, no-one would take the risk and planes would go out of fashion. Poor quality leadership reduces morale and engagement and leads to huge losses of productivity.

One reason leaders fail is that nearly three quarters of all firms fail to train first time leaders. To help smooth that transition we have put together a guide to help orient leaders to their new role.

1. To step into the role, do more and do less.

Moving into leadership means valuing the work of managing and letting go of tasks and responsibilities of an individual contributor.  

Check you are doing less of:

  • Doing work that team members have to do
  • Taking back the tasks you have delegated because you can do them better
  • Micromanaging so team members have no autonomy

Check you are doing more of:

  • Clarifying the team mission
  • Checking in and coaching team members
  • Dealing with senior management to clarify context and strategy
  • Removing roadblocks to team performance

2. Ensure you, and the team, are clear about the mission and context

Teams can get lost in the doing of a task and drift from their key mission. Evidence shows that the benefits of ensuring everyone is clear on the team task, and their individual roles are a happier and more productive team. Keeping up with context – what’s happening in and around the organization, it’s customers and the broader business environment - is essential to prepare the team to adjust or pivot.

3. Get to know everyone

People are different. Good leaders take the time to learn what each team member’s skills are, what their development needs are and, most importantly, the circumstances of their lives. People work better for leaders who care about what happens for them, and you cannot coach someone without being in touch with their wants, hopes and fears.

4. When in charge, be in charge

For the most part, people who are skilled in their roles don’t need a lot of leading – overbearing, picky or fussy managers do not bring the best out of anyone. But not stepping in when a decision needs to be made, or dealing with consistently poor performance is just as damaging. Making a call, even if you may be wrong, is better than leaving the team hanging or interminably seeking consensus.

5. It’s about them, not you

Although it should be obvious, keep in mind that there can be no leader without followers. From an evolutionary perspective human beings evolved to follow because leadership is a resource for the good of the group. That is, you are there to help the group be great – not to make yourself look good.

Becoming an effective leader is a skill developed with time, experience and a good dose of self-awareness. The key is so stay open to feedback, actively listen, and to stay humble.

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