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3 Challenges New Leaders Face

October 26, 2020

By Randy Hall


If you look at many businesses, there is a critical component of success that can often be the thing that sets them apart from their competitors and from other businesses in general - How well they develop leaders.

It affects every single part of the business, determines their future, and is the most multiplied factor in a business’s success.  If you have great leaders, you are likely to have more great leaders in the future.  If you have poor leaders, you are more likely to have more poor leaders in the future. This is another of the factors that makes leader development so critical for any organization.

One of the most important phases of leader development within a business is the transition from individual contributor to any leadership or management role.  If businesses can get this part right, they have addressed one of the most common failure points in the leader development process.

It’s not an easy transition, and often the people selected for a leadership role were those that excelled at the individual contributions.  That’s not to say that we should select mediocre salespeople to manage other salespeople, for example, but we do have to recognize the challenge associated with developing an entirely new set of strengths.

Excelling at individual contribution often is characterized by a set of skills that need to be shifted or augmented in order to make the transition to leadership.  Here are a few of the biggest challenges facing those who are making that leap:

1. Shifting from quantity to quality

In many cases individual contributors have to shift from the number of repetitions of something to the quality of those repetitions.  In an individual contributor role it might be the number of sales calls, the number of tasks completed, the number of project steps executed, the number of patients treated, etc.  And yes, there needs to be a certain level of quality associated with that work, no question. 

But frequency as an individual contributor, is sometimes a larger factor in us having success in a way that gets us to the next level or helps us stand out. In a management role, more coaching conversations or more instructions, for example, can just be viewed as micromanagement and can actually make the results far worse for the leader, especially if you are measuring employee engagement or retention as part of your success metrics.  We have to become masters at things like coaching and communication so that we can actually do LESS of it and get great results. You would never want someone to do less business development, for example, but really good leaders get to do less telling, less fixing of issues, less hiring, and less communication, because they are doing it better.

2. Shifting from effort to capability

Generally, in an individual contributor role, the more hours we put in or the more intensity of those hours can get us a higher level of achievement.  We get more commission, more overtime, produce more product, or accomplish more things.  If we increase the intensity or duration of our effort, we can be more successful.  In leadership, that is not the case at all.  We may need to ponder an important strategic decision for quite a while, get lots of input, take some time to step away from it, and test some solutions.  Effort is not our limiting factor. 

As a leader we have to think about improving our information, learning, listening, strategic thinking, communication, coaching, vision, questions, and our planning. These things require us to be introspective, self-aware, and curious.  They require us to focus on insight, exploration, and development.  Effort certainly plays a role, but we can’t just do more and expect to move the leadership needle.

3. Shifting from tactical to strategic

As a leader we have to think longer term, consider a higher-level approach to problem solving, and do a better job at considering the feelings, thoughts, ideas, perspectives, and situations of others.  Everything we do has to be done through others, and we are building a foundation for the future far more than we are getting the week’s tasks executed. We have more moving parts to consider, and the level of difficulty increases dramatically because we do much of our work through others.

Our span of direct control decreases, and our span of influence increases.  We can have more of an impact on an organization, but we can directly touch a smaller percentage of the things that represent an increase in success. I might coach a person who is directly connected to our customers, for example, but I now have that impact indirectly.  If I do it well, I can influence the interactions with thousands of customers through the improvement of my team, but I have to do it second-hand, which makes it more challenging and requires a completely different approach.

Everything we do as a leader is multiplied and magnified.  At the same time, it is less measurable and tangible.  To get there, we have to develop a new set of skills and become students of what works, as we improve our ability to impact the behavior of others.

Supporting leaders in our business as they make that transition, sets the foundation for how leaders improve, develop, and excel within our organization.  And that shapes our future as much as anything else we do.

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