by Emily Capito, LCSW, MBA
I landed in my first leadership role in my early 20s, before I even owned appropriate executive apparel. Unfortunately, gaining the leadership skills to go along with my new pin-striped skirt wasn’t as simple as a trip to The Loft. In fact, it was a painful series of confidently crafted catastrophes.
Your succession plan requires that your emerging leaders succeed. By watching out for these five common pitfalls of early leadership, you can prevent the fallout and grow your bench.
- Fixer Upper Edicts
Do you have a hot shot eyeing leadership? Be wary of the tendency to project their personal expectations and begin making changes to suit their narrow focus right out of the gate. This often begins with executive orders and ends with a lot of frustration on all accounts.
Lacking experience, high achievers fail to appreciate the scope of planning and effort associated with what they see as simple requests. As McKinsey & Company notes, “…managers drive results via budgets and quotas; real change leaders achieve objectives by mobilizing a broad base of people.”
Don’t let your potential leaders learn the hard way. Involve top players in project teams early so they can gain the firsthand experience necessary to lead change effectively when it’s their turn.
- Monochrome Cloning
Some personalities, especially the bold personalities of top performers, fail to appreciate the benefits of other, less driven personalities. I went through three secretaries before I realized I shouldn’t attempt to hire a clone of myself. In mentoring emerging leaders, it’s important to coach them in balancing the personalities and strengths on any given team, including their direct reports.
The Color Code by Taylor Hartman is a fun and effective way to increase awareness of different personality styles and how to play well together. The bold red COO learns to appreciate the stabilizing effect of the white CFO during difficult meetings, while the blue, people-oriented CEO takes advantage of the yellow HR executive’s ability to build a bright and exciting culture.
- Isolated Juggling
For many first-time leaders, the lightbulb doesn’t click on that the how of completing our work has completely changed; we simply acknowledge increased responsibilities. If you frequently find your new leader in front of their computer issuing bits of communication via email, you’ve got a problem.
As Kevin Kruse defines it in his classic Forbes article, What is Leadership, “Leadership is a process of social influence.”
This can be frustrating when your known method for winning is buckling down and doing the work better than anyone else.
Take your emerging leader along for casual coffee meetings and visits with frontline staff. Role model that the Ivory Tower doesn’t hold up in your organization, and create opportunities to demonstrate the insight and trust generated from face-to-face engagement.
- Efficient Decision Fallacy
It can be easy to get caught up in the confidence of eager new leaders. They often have great ideas, albeit naïve at times.
The scenario: Your excited new executive stops you in the hall for a quick chat about how the organization can save thousands by going paperless. “Sounds great,” you say, and continue to the urgent meeting in your office.
The consequences of quick hallway decisions are often immediate. Those down the line who are already wary of the 20-something who advanced above them get a bit rattled when they aren’t consulted about change that impacts their teams. It’s a setup for the aforementioned Ivory Tower trust gap. Avoid it by always responding to good ideas with encouragement to gather input.
- Expert Alienation
Taking on the mantle of leadership isn’t easy. Confident bravado can garner quicker results than genuine leadership. Observe your emerging leader in meetings and in teams. If he or she always has the right answer and fails to encourage the perspectives of peers and subordinates, they probably won’t get much done at the top.
Coach your rising star to become a better facilitator, rather than the oracle. Judith Ross summed it up in the Harvard Business Review: “…an empowering question does more than convey respect for the person to whom it’s posed. It actually encourages that person’s development as a thinker and problem solver, thereby delivering both short-term and long-term value.”
It all begins with the C-Suite. Are you role modeling leadership that empowers, involves and engages your organization? Or are you sitting in front of your computer carrying out a hallway decision? It’s not too late to invest in a robust and productive organization that grows mature leaders of the future.
Emily Capito is a capacity-building consultant working with young organizations to scale growth and successfully transition from startup to self-sustaining. Formerly the COO of a large nonprofit where she consistently pushed the limits to establish the organization as an industry innovator, Emily catalyzes transformational growth. You can find free resources here: emilycapito.com and her blog here:blog.impactignition.com.
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