Coaching HiPos On Leadership Transition
"So here I am with a group of high performers and high potentials. They have a cause for celebration. They know they are on the right track to get the corner office and invitation to the next celebration event. Yet, their managers have assigned us a coaching engagement to discuss and develop their people leadership skills. A little rush at the eleventh hour to be honest, but I like the old saying, "it's better late than sorry.""
In the last 5 years I have had the privilege of getting on over three dozens of coaching assignments with high potential vice presidents who were eyeing for the next level (managing director positions) of leadership.
It is no secret that a lot of job promotions are awarded based on business performance. People with an indisputable track record as the best sales representative, or trader, or researcher, or financial controller or fill in the blank with any expertise. In many instances, it is a number game and key people leadership skills, may be largely untested prior to the promotion. Some organizations insist on an assessment center or some form of leadership development program, as a mandatory step prior to the promotion. Kudos to those organizations. We know the opposite is true for a large number of companies, where such "finishing school" approach was hardly the case.
So here I am with a group of high performers and high potentials. They have a cause for celebration. They know they are on the right track to get the corner office and invitation to the next celebration event. Yet, their managers have assigned us a coaching engagement to discuss their readiness and to develop their people leadership skills. A little rush at the eleventh hour to be honest, but I like the old saying, "it's better late than sorry."
Here I would like to outline five common pitfalls and also common challenges that sprung up from many of the coaching conversations I have had with the HiPos. And these challenges are faced by HiPos who are both new to and experienced in people management. Along with highlighting these some quick suggestions to overcome the challenges.
1. Failure to delegate
It’s nerve wrecking to letting go of control. After all, they were the best in their field therefore they got promoted. And their teams have never been able to show that others can do the same things faster and better and more effective than them so why take the risk of letting go? The “bad” news is to step up to the next level, one does not have a choice. Stepping up to a leadership position means there’s more on the person's plate now and he/she will have less time to do everything alone. The "super individual contributor" mindset will have to take a back seat. The message at this point is: Delegating has become key to separate great leadership from mediocre leadership.
Delegating is not just about getting leverage but it also helps the leader to earn the badge of being a people developer. Being a people developer attracts talent. People flock to leaders whom they think provide career progression and make them better professionals. The payoff is huge and the first step towards a successful delegation is shifting the mindset on control, letting go and leveraging others. I often encourage the HiPos to start delegating in small chunks, taking into account their teams' competence and motivation, and striking a balance between delegating tasks and accountability.
"Some organizations may call such activities as creating visibility, or getting exposure. It's actually a little more basic than that. It's just about making sure there is an active communication line with all the key stakeholders."
2. Not communicating enough
Being an individual contributor can be a very comfortable position for most people. As people leaders, however, the need to communicate vertically and horizontally across the organization increases tremendously. A systematic and structured plan for stakeholder management and communication frequency is often required.
In some of my coaching assignments, I’ve observed some of the most senior and successful corporate leaders religiously maintained a communications plan. They tracked and analyzed the frequency, impact, and outcomes of their day-to-day communications with their stakeholders. Some organizations may call such activities as creating visibility or getting exposure. It's actually a little more basic than that. It's just about making sure there is an active communication line with all the key stakeholders. Many HiPos who got promoted eventually shared with me this was the single biggest lesson they have acquired during the promotion process. Many had not imagined how crucial a thorough communication plan was to their career success or, failure.
3. Prioritising on the wrong things
If it feels overwhelming at first when stepping into a promotion race or a new leadership role, it’s rightly so. The very first thing HiPos need to clarify with their senior management team, even prior to the promotion, is expectations. What are key priorities in the first 90 days? Then what about the priorities for the mid term (6-12 months) and long term (1-3 years)?The Presidents of the United States are framed to be judged on their first 90 days. In the corporate world, the first 90 days is also often seen as the key determinant for the success or failure of a leader.
Some mindfulness and time management practice certainly help in clearing the mental space adn stay focus on the urgent vs. important. Often prioritizing on the tasks with the biggest payoffs help build credibility before and after the promotion. Such exercise also often force the HiPos to run the list pass their management team to get feedback. Indirectly, such exercise opens up more two-way communications between the HiPos and the management team.
Asking for feedback allows people the opportunity to tap into the smart of others. It also shows humility and a high level of emotional intelligence. The “why” generation appreciates leaders who engage them and ask for their opinions.
4. Reluctance in asking for feedback
Some people may associate feedback and learning to weaknesses. The opposite is true. Change is rapid today. Past performance doesn’t guarantee future success. Leaders who have a high learning agility to unlearn and relearn about themselves, their surroundings, their teams, their products, on an ongoing basis, have the highest probability of succeeding in today’s fast-changing business landscape.
It is also the Information Age where leaders no longer hold all the answers. Asking for feedback allows people the opportunity to tap into the smart of others. It also shows humility and a high level of emotional intelligence. The “why” generation appreciates leaders who engage them and ask for their opinions. Asking for feedback is no longer a taboo but cool! More importantly, it allows the HiPos to quickly understand deeply how you could lead the team to success.
5. Lack of leadership presence
This can be a slightly trickier one and there are some differences in interpretations across culture and organizations. The HiPos are going for a larger seat at the table (more literally if their promotion comes with a larger office or desk). They are the same persons but the team now expects more from them for inspirations, motivation, and direction. Sometimes being a HiPos itself attracts such expectations from the team. But some people may mistaken building a leadership presence with building a larger than life view of oneself, or a persona. It is not. Nobody likes to work with someone who is not authentic and think a world of him or herself.
Leadership presence, is about owning the room, be consistent and clear in communicating one's belief, values and speaking with conviction and confidence. It is about drawing people to us and increasing the desire of others to be led by us. It is a critical aspect of personal branding that helps build teams, business and organizations. In other words, it's tied back to people leadership and getting ready to lead. Some of the conversations I had with the HiPos ranged from being conscious and selective of their words and body language, to authenticity and presentation style. And also to be reflective on how what they say can affect others. The exercise then goes into making all their words and actions authentic and extremely consistent.