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Why do new leaders fail?

What was your first significant leadership role?

How well prepared did you feel for it? 

Who helped you learn to become a leader?

Companies often promote high-performing employees into leadership roles and just assume they will know what to do. Why? Because the chances are that is what happened to the person who promoted them. Leadership is far too important in any organization to leave success to chance. But, that is what happens in most organizations. Leaders struggle for a few reasons, and it would well serve the organization to solve these issues.

New Leaders Fail Due to Lack of Training and Development

I submit that companies do a poor job of developing leadership talent. Companies tend to fill entry-level leadership roles with high-performing individual contributors. They may or may not be suitable for a leadership role as typically they do not perform assessments to assess their potential or desire. And too often, after placement, the company assumes they will just “get it” and start leading a team.

Innovative companies prepare their new leaders for the role. First, they identify leadership potential through observation and assessments. Ideally, they give potential leaders opportunities to lead small teams focused on a project or task force to see how they do in that role. 

A best practice is to create an environment to develop and support leaders in their roles. One option is to give them weekly leadership classes where they learn the principles of outstanding leadership. A step above would be to include a group coaching component to meet with other growing leaders for support, encouragement, and development.

Lack of Guidance for New Leaders

We know that coaching will be an increasingly important trait for leaders. The ability is an important, but not only, quality for any leader who oversees a team of leaders. Mentoring, guiding, and coaching their new leaders will be necessary to their development and success. Maybe the new leader is lucky, and their boss will act as a mentor or coach to them and help them deal with the challenges they face. 

Given their boss likely received no leadership training themselves, their ability to help is small. So the new leader is left to figure it out on their own. And a poorly trained leader, lacking guidance, will struggle and perhaps even harm the organization.

Companies would do well to build programs that teach existing leadership how to coach their new leaders. Another consideration is for companies to develop formal mentoring programs to match mature leaders with new and high potential leaders to guide them on their path.

New Leaders Fail Due to Their Fear

The final challenge for new leaders is the fear of asking for help. After all, the company promoted them into this role. The company isn’t providing training, coaching, or support; they expect the new leader to handle it well. So, the new leader resists asking questions. They try to figure it out themselves.

And this leads to mistakes, wasted effort, and perhaps even worse. Maybe they will become a better leader over time by learning from their mistakes. Who wants to put people through that, though? 

Senior leaders need to encourage questions from lower levels of leadership. And this only happens when they take the time to build that mentoring and coaching relationship with new leaders. Again, this takes an intention and consistent effort. Senior leaders must plan for formal and informal opportunities to meet with new leaders. And if they simply don’t have the time or the bandwidth, the organization needs to provide new leaders with access to coaching and mentoring services. 

Leadership is a learning process for leaders, new and old. It is a set of skills that we must constantly feed and develop. If you’d like to talk more about this, join our Clear Path Leaders Forum, where we discuss building leadership skills, offer free training programs, and a supportive community of leaders.