When you decide to take your first real job with any organization in any industry, you have effectively consented to a merger. The merger is between your personal dreams, aspirations and goals — and the mission, purpose and strategic objectives of the organization that hires you. Simply stated: The role of formal leadership in that organization is to facilitate that merger in a win-win manner.

  • How do you as a recently hired employee get what you want out of the relationship?
  • And how does the organization in question get what it needs to get out of you?

So, those front-line leaders are important people! They need to be looking out for their company and you — every day. The other thing worth mentioning as you walk through the door on the first day of your first job is that if you did a background check on your front-line leader, you would probably find out he or she was in your shoes not too long ago! They were hired to fulfill the requirements of one technical role or another.

  • If they were engineers, they were hired to help make things.
  • If they were introduced through manufacturing, they were hired to help produce those things.
  • And, if they were recruited as a salesperson, they were hired to help with the commercial efforts to take those things and get customers excited about them!

As these front-line managers increased their levels of skills mastery, they encountered a fork in the road to their career. In that instance, they had the opportunity to stay on their existing course and continue their journey as an individual contributor, adding layers of ongoing depth to both their base of experience and functional expertise, or to move into the realm of formalized people-management —thus how they got to where they are today.

The point is: It is never too early to start thinking about your fork in the road because it is a crucial decision in your professional career that may not be too far away!

Surprisingly, not much has been written about this incredible point in many peoples’ careers. For example, the research of Kouzes and Posner irrefutably suggests that:

  • 70% of the reason first-time leaders are promoted is because they have demonstrated technical skill mastery.
  • And 80% of the reason those first-time leaders struggle or fail is attributed to underdeveloped human skills (i.e., influencing others, earning trust, resolving conflicts).

So, how do you prepare yourself for this inevitable decision? Certainly, technical proficiency will continue to be a big part of the equation. Would it make any sense whatsoever to consider promoting employees into a position of supervision if they struggle with the fundamentals of their functional role? Of course not!

But, beyond technical proficiency, there are other skills needed to develop and apply if you aspire to become a leader someday in your organization. Let’s examine some key insights on what characteristics make a good people manager.

  1. Referent Power

Your ability to build referent power with others is probably the most important skill you can possess — regardless of the direction your career path eventually takes. Referent power is trust or credibility, and it is a product of expertise, sincerity, reliability and responsiveness.

Providing others with the benefit of your experience when it is appropriate is one way to build referent power (expertise). So is listening to the problems of others in a thoughtful manner (sincerity), doing what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it (reliability and getting back to your team on or ahead of schedule regardless of the competing priorities (responsiveness)!

  1. Servant Leadership

Historically, leaders are thought of as the ones in charge. Traditional leaders identify work goals, establish priorities and monitor employee progress. However, amid ongoing changes in the work environment, leaders are learning how to become servant leaders.

Servant leaders reverse the power dynamic associated with the traditional role. They do not identify their value as a leader by figuring everything out but instead, grant their employees autonomy to figure things out on their own or as a team. They empower their team to make those difficult decisions.

  1. Learning

Ongoing leadership development is synonymous with lifelong learning! As a leader, regardless of the position you occupy in the org-chart, you are never done! Nothing stays the same — things are either getting better or getting worse.

Leaders are the force in the organization that propel it forward. Those leaders see what is working, what isn’t and how change is impacting the ability of their team to deliver expected outcomes. Effective leaders remain dedicated to taking a fresh-eyes approach to the world around them and expanding their existing base of experience every chance they get.

A strong organization should be able to point to strong leaders at each and every level. Build bench strength for the future initiates of every new hire. Create a customized career path tailored to them to benefit your future front-line leaders.