I was promoted! Now what?
In today’s business world it is a widely spread practice to recruit from inside the company in order to fill vacant positions. Organizations build career paths, measure indicators on internal recruitments and use promotions as a motivation tool.
In this context, it is not infrequent that good technical experts are appointed in leadership positions. This involves not only assuming a new role in front of people who used to be your colleagues until recently, but also acquiring a whole new set of skills, ranging from communication and conflict management to motivation, personal and team development.
Having a new job description, new objectives and new expectations expressed by the manager, and maybe attending some leadership trainings simply does not do it!
Therefore, in practice, we see these people experiencing high levels of stress, brought about by the pressure to deliver quickly in a “more important job”; this is further aggravated by the fear of failure and the panic that arise from acknowledging that they are missing practical tools to deal with the challenges of their new reality. In order to regain some control, their natural tendency is to revert to the activities they were doing as experts; this brings a new wave of dissatisfaction among their team members, marginal results, and negative feedback from their managers, putting them in a vicious circle that blocks the growth.
Training can certainly help to some extent in this situation, as it provides general methods and techniques to be used in a leadership role. But what I see in my experience is that it has to be combined with a coaching / mentoring programme. While mentorship involves giving recommendations and tools, coaching provides the support to the new leader to activate their potential and choose their actions from a place of empowerment and responsibility.
Such a programme means that the new leader will have regular one-to-one meetings with a coach / mentor to discuss specific situations in which they were involved, how they dealt with them, what they could have done differently for better results. The mentor will present methods and practical tools that have proved to be efficient in their experience, so that the new leader can test them in their own situations. The coach will partner with the new leader to identify the challenges they face, the thinking and behavioral patterns that they use and their respective outcomes, to gain perspective and clarity about their desired results and to establish goals and action plans.
How can this be done in practice? The coach and the mentor can be one and the same or two different persons. Ideally, the new leader’s manager should play the part of at least the mentor. Although some managers will not be able or willing to assume either of these roles, I still recommend that they have regular meetings with the new leader to discuss how the integration in the new function is advancing.
There is another factor that has a significant impact on how this situation can progress: how the organisational culture regards mistakes. In an organisation that focuses on punishing mistakes and using negative reinforcement, the newly promoted leader will most probably fall into behaviours of avoiding conflicts, pushing decisions to higher levels and staying in the comfort zone of what they already know how to do. In the long run, this limits not only the development of the new leader and their team, but also the quality of the results they get. By contrast, in an organisational culture that truly supports continuous improvement, mistakes are seen as a source of learning and growth and people feel comfortable to admit to them. In such a culture, a newly promoted leader feels encouraged to test and experiment with their new skills, with the confidence that although not all actions will bring success, surely most of them will bring learnings and awareness.
There is no quick fix if we want to be successful in promoting good technical experts in leadership positions. We need to be willing to allocate time and energy to accompany these new leaders and provide for them a necessary and authentic context of growth. But if we manage to create a supportive culture and the right type of guidance, we have good chances to make it a real source of motivation and, ultimately, an action that brings added value to the organisation.
Article written by Cristina Băcilă