What is a major reason that new leaders fail?

The script that brought them so much success as individual contributors (shining the spotlight on “me” and my own unique, special and individual talents, motivation, smarts and technical skills) is nowhere in the script of being a successful leader. New leaders are often not told to flip their scripts to say, “It’s not about me anymore.” 

The numbers support this theory: According to a CareerBuilder survey, almost 60 percent of new leaders receive no training or development when they transition from superstar individual contributor to leader.

Based on research, here are six ways you can help your first-time managers and new leaders on the frontlines avoid this classic trap.

1. Flip their mindset.

New leaders must have a different mindset, particularly around their motivation for learning and development. Of the nearly 300 new leaders in my research, poorly performing first-time managers tended to concentrate more on themselves; their main motivation in learning and development was to gain recognition and be noticed. Those who were most effective were driven to learn and develop because they believed learning was fun, exciting and intrinsically pleasing.

Help new leaders flip their scripts by flipping their mindset: Motivate them to learn for the sake of learning, not to stand out from the crowd.

2. Flip their skill set.

Ineffective new leaders tend to rely too much on their technical savvy. They fail to realize that being a subject matter expert is not in the script for new leaders.

Help new leaders flip their scripts by flipping their skill set: Encourage them to develop skills such as communication and influence, which my research identified as two important skills that new leaders must develop to be effective.

3. Flip their relationships.

When I asked new leaders what their three biggest leadership challenges were, two of the top three revolved around relationships. Almost 60 percent said that making the transition from peer (or friend) to boss was one of their top challenges. Another often-mentioned challenge was leading teams effectively.

Help new leaders flip their scripts by flipping their relationships: They must realize that they are not part of a team anymore; now, they must display authority and lead the team.

4. Flip their “do-it-all” attitude.

It’s difficult for new leaders to let go of the work they love doing and that defined who they were.

Help new leaders flip their scripts by flipping their “do-it-all’ attitude: Support them in using their passion by delegating work or coaching, mentoring, and developing others to make their team successful.

5. Flip their perspective.

New leaders can no longer have a narrow view of work.

Help new leaders flip their scripts by flipping their perspective: Expand their view and give them opportunities to develop a new perspective about working across boundaries; managing up, down, and around the organization; and managing the politics inherent in all organizations.

6. Flip their focus.

New leaders must understand that all eyes are not just on their work anymore, but on every action they take and decision they make.

Help new leader flip their scripts by flipping their focus. Based on my research, integrity and character do matter. A leader’s actions and decisions can have ripple effects, affecting the team, organization, stakeholders, shareholders and even society.

Think that’s too far a stretch? Ask the people who have been hurt by actions taken by Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, Martin Shkreli, those involved in the VW emissions scandal or those who were complicit in the Wells Fargo incentive fiasco. Maybe the world would be a much different and better place if those executives had flipped their focus when they first became leaders.

As I tell new leaders (and myself as well), “It’s not about me anymore.” It is possible to develop the bosses everyone wants to work for if you trust the research and help new leaders flip their scripts, focusing less on themselves and more on the people they lead and serve.

William A. (Bill) Gentry, Ph.D., is director of leadership insights and analytics and a senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®) in Greensboro, N.C. He is the author of the book “Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders.”

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