Launching a leadership career should not resemble a game of pin the tail on the donkey. But too often we fail to provide the support to gain needed skills

David FullerI was blindfolded and had been spinning for what seemed like minutes (it was only a few seconds), before being pushed toward the donkey. I was dizzy and had no idea where I was. I wanted to cheat so I could have a chance at winning but the blindfold was too tight. In the end, I just stuck the pin anywhere, hoping I was close to the target.

I recently worked with a company’s new leader. She had been promoted to general manager and was in charge of all aspects of the business, from marketing to finance. Because she had come from a different location, she was familiar with the business but not the specifics of this site. She told me that her head was spinning trying to process so much new information and she wasn’t sure she could continue.

In North America, the trend is to promote leaders from within a company. The benefits are many, including an understanding of the culture of the organization by the new manager, and the fact that the company knows the strengths and weaknesses of the promoted employee. Because there’s a familiarity with the manager who’s moving to a higher leadership position, there’s an assumption that they will just get on with the job in the new position. This assumption can lead to problems.

These new leaders are being set up for failure because of a lack of support. In an entry-level management position, there’s often a training component. But move someone from mid-management to upper management and we forget that we need to adequately train them to ensure they are able to get on with the job. According to research, it takes three to four years for a leader to figure out how to be effective and competent in a new position. Like the game pin the tail on the donkey, they’re floundering as they try to figure out how to advance.

In order to ensure a speedy transition to effective leadership within a multifaceted business, we need to ensure that our new leaders have a competent grasp of the 14 areas of the business. These crucial areas are: sales, marketing, leadership, strategic planning, financial management, human resources, customer experience, business systems/operations, communications, coaching, choice (time) management, gross profit maximization, management fundamentals and personal effectiveness.

Usually our leaders have competencies in some of these areas but lack a clear understanding of others. We promote a sales manager, marketing manager, accountant or operations manager to a general manager’s position and assume that they’ll naturally be successful. We forget that there are different skills involved and fail to train or give time for the development of those skills that are critical to the leader’s success and for the business to thrive.

As I started working with my client in focusing on developing one area of understanding and competency a month, it became clear that she would succeed in her new position. Her ability to manage people and unforeseen situations rapidly improved, and her success in achieving change was no longer impeded by her lack of procedural clarity. One of the biggest factors was her reduced stress level. This decreased the risk to the company of her departure, considering all they had invested in her.

The cost of extended learning curves and frustrated organizations can be mitigated when we take the blindfold off and give our new leaders the ability to see clearly the direction they need to go to hit their targets.

Pin the tail on the donkey is great at birthday parties but has no place in business if we want new leaders to become great leaders.

Troy Media columnist David Fuller, MBA, is a certified professional business coach and author who helps business leaders ensure that their companies are successful. David is author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy.


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