How Do You Help a New Leader When Leadership Doesn’t Come Naturally? by Alec Murray


As many of us know from experience, too often people are promoted because they are good at what they do, but not all high-performing individuals make good managers.

Companies need to know what to do about this situation since they promoted the person and are now responsible for this new manager’s training and leadership growth.

So, just how does a company manage a manager who can’t manage?

1. How do you avoid this problem in the first place?

Many organizations make this mistake in filling management positions. They place people in management roles because they have excelled in a functional role (sales, marketing, finance, operations, manufacturing, product development, etc.).

The transition is treated as a promotion, which encourages people to accept management responsibilities even if they have no interest or experience in managing people.

Everyone loses when this happens — the organization loses a top functional employee to the ranks of management; the newly minted manager is often less happy in the new role than the old; and the new manager’s direct reports suffer from having a poor manager.

2. What do you do if the manager can “do,” but not lead?

Each organization is different, but it starts with “what does leadership look like?” in his or her case. The executive team needs to be very specific about identifying the top 3-5 characteristics that are needed in their role for leadership. Then they need to relate this to specific actions they will need to take.

Another task is to help them see “leadership moments” as they arise in the work. It is a little bit of pointing the way but building a track record of “smaller” leadership actions is a way to transition from “doing.”

At a slightly higher level, there is talking with them about the difference between leading and managing. Without getting lost in semantics, leading is about direction and change and managing is about getting the job done.

The conversation should be conscious and explicit and should provide them about examples of the differences between the two.

3. Who is at fault and what is the solution?

In short, if an organization finds itself with managers who can “do” but cannot manage, it may be because the company hasn’t taken the time to identify people with management potential, train and prepare them for management roles, and mentor them when they first take on management responsibilities.

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