I’ve been working with a leader that has just transitioned from being an individual contributor into his new role as the manager of a sales team. Curtis isn’t that different from any of the rest of us that have made the move from being an individual contributor into the role of leader of others. He was a star performer in his organization and the belief is that what made him successful and added value to the organization as an individual contributor will also make him successful now that he’s leading a team.
The good news for Curtis is that this isn’t an organization that promotes people, gives them a pat on the back, wishes them success and then sits back while the new leader figures out what they need to do to find success in their new role. Sadly, in organizations that do the latter, success in the new leadership role is a rare event indeed. A recent study involving 160 HR professionals representing just under 500,000 employees that around a third of new leaders (29%) fail to live up to expectations in their first two years in the role. The key driver for the failure rate in the minds of the 160 HR professionals? A lack of support on the part of the organization for new leaders.
Making the assumption that what powered exceptional performance in an individual contributor role will positively impact leadership performance is one of the root causes of this failure rate. So let’s take a look at what made Curtis such a success as an individual contributor. In addition to all of the knowledge, skills and abilities he brings to the organization, based on his McQuaig® Word Survey we know that he also brings certain behavioural temperaments to the role.
The reality is that what made him a success in his previous role will create some challenges for him in this new leadership role. To begin with, Curtis is hardwired to want to create results. One of the biggest challenges for a new manager is to resist the urge to step back into an individual contributor role in order to make things happen. He’s competitive, driven and focused on results and will definitely look to create results if his team isn’t producing wins quickly enough for him.
The second challenge for Curtis is that he’s an individual, independent problem solver. I asked him “when people ask you a question, what do you do?” He responded by saying that he would give them an answer. That’s the perfect response for an individual contributor role within the organization. However, when your role is to coach and develop the talent you have available to you it’s the wrong answer. Unless Curtis helps his direct reports to self discover they will never function to their full capacity and the organization will suffer as a result.
The strategy here is a simple one. Unless the situation is critical he should be asking his direct reports more questions. Well it sounds simple in any event. I can tell you from personal experience it is one of the hardest things to do when you are an individual, independent problem solver with a huge sense of urgency. My good friend Tony Scutella refers to these as Mickey Mouse coaching moments. He reminds me constantly that Mickey has two really large ears and one small mouth. As coaches we have to get into the habit of asking the kinds of questions that will facilitate self discovery. Some examples are:
- Tell me what you’ve done so far
- Describe what you think would be the perfect solution
- Share your thoughts on this with me
- Explain how you’d like to proceed
- Help me understand the problem a little better
The second way that we develop the available talent is by delegating both task and responsibility to our direct reports. The good news for Curtis is that for him this is not an issue. The combination of his dominance and independence means that he is quite comfortable with delegation. If anything the challenge is in the follow-up for Curtis and in our discussion he mentioned that he’d been bitten on the backside by his lack of follow-up in the past. When he’s given something over and the other person has accepted it, they own it.
Ask yourself this question…”if a job’s worth doing right, who should do it?” If your answer was you I can guarantee that you will have some struggles with delegation. Being self-aware here is critical to your success as a leader. The people on your team will not develop unless you delegate increasingly complex tasks to them. The strategy is to begin to delegate even small pieces of what you need accomplished so you can develop the trust, faith and confidence you require in every member of the team.
The shift from command and control style leadership to a style of leadership that is based on coaching has been a difficult one for many first time leaders to make. Command and control works well when you’re an individual contributor and the only person you are responsible for is you. It doesn’t work well in a system that requires you to become a coach. Coaching is more about asking and less about telling. For some of us that presents a challenge. If you’d like to see exactly how your behaviours will impact your leadership style just send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will set you up with a link to the McQuaig® Word Survey.