A necessary component of succession planning in organizations involves managers transitioning to leaders. It makes good business sense, because managers represent an investment in the future.

Succession means progression. It wouldn’t be succession planning if the candidates, employees and stakeholders’ interests were not at the forefront. For the candidate leader, it’s a critical time for personal development, skill development and professional growth. For the organization, it’s vitally important to get it right. Managers often trip on their way up, but senior leaders can mitigate stumbling with an aggressive strategy.

Leader Candidates

Managers typically earn promotions for being good at what they are currently doing. Rather than assuming that effectiveness will continue, senior leaders should put into place a two-pronged approach for leader development.

The first prong is to place the right candidate. The cliché applies: “Hire for attitude, and train for ability.” The second prong is to cultivate the well-selected candidate with extensive training opportunities and environments that promote growth.

Transitioning managers into leaders ideally starts long before the switch is flipped. Early on, candidates should be groomed through extensive training in business acumen, marketing, sales, budgets and product knowledge. Leadership and executive training programs prior to transition open the potential leader to the world of organizational development and change and expand their business capabilities. These experiences equip the candidate-leader with a view and an understanding of the “leadership landscape.” Concurrent to extensive training, new leaders need to gain broad, cross-functional experience by, even for a short time, managing different projects and program areas. This exposure gives the leader an opportunity to directly apply what the training sessions offer.

The context of leadership can be polarizing, ambiguous, volatile and complex, so strong support systems must be in place. A network of colleagues to model the way and offer reassurance, along with mentors, coaches and careful monitoring, will serve as the classic challenge/support system to promote a productive transition while cultivating new leaders.

A Shift in Focus

New leaders must shift focus and thinking in five broad areas:

1. From Production to Outcomes

The immediate challenge for managers is to shift their thinking and operating from a “making widgets” mindset to an “influencing outcomes” mindset. It is inherent in the leadership process that the leader influences the outcome. As the new leader begins working with department heads and stakeholders, they need to operate from a new perspective, a long-term view with potential for short-term, stepping stone implementation. The role of the leader is to influence the long-term with organizational strategy in mind.

2. From Specialist to Visionary

Managers thrive as specialists. They know their department, their people and their function. That’s not enough for a leader. Leaders must know the language of all departments. They must be able to translate departmental information, patterns and trends into the language of efficiencies, profit and direction.

The vision of the organization is up to the leadership. No one else will take the reins here. Leaders must harness what they know now with the trends they see in the telescope to provide direction. Vision can be complex and multifaceted, but nothing can beat everyone pulling in the same direction. This is one big advantage that is difficult for competitors to duplicate.

3. From One to All

Managers have the responsibility of managing the day-to-day operations on the floor. They are embedded with the staff. Leaders don’t manage as much as they lead direction. Whereas a manager focuses on employee engagement, a leader focuses on workforce engagement.

A new leader may have lingering “departmental biases” that show up as baggage, which slows down meetings and other processes. The classic mistake is for new leaders to over-manage and under-lead, especially their previous function. Colleagues need to give the new leader their patience while he or she cultivates an open-minded shift from managing one department to serving all departments in the organization.

4. From Solving Problems to Seeing Problems Before They Develop

Strictly speaking, both managers and leaders solve problems, but one of the finer points of leadership – and where leaders earn their keep – is seeing problems before they happen. If leaders can identify slowed growth or a decline in earnings early, and proactively put a plan in place to avoid the dreaded “workforce planning,” they can save everyone.

5. From Worker to Learner

Leadership is not about knowing; it’s about learning. New leaders typify the shift from a working manager to a learning leader. As they work to cultivate an open mind and flexibility, they must also demonstrate a commitment to relentless self-improvement. That means applying continuous learning toward competency, excellence and greatness.

A Leadership Culture

When new leaders are hand-selected and given the organizational backing necessary for success, they not only hear the claim that employees are the most valued asset, but they experience it. When leaders lead new leaders, they develop the ultimate leadership culture and competitive advantage.