Four Ways to Cultivate Employee Leadership

February 8th, 2013

If you run a company or manage a team of employees, chances are you’ve encountered the following phenomenon at least once: You recognize a star on your team. You let him know during formal and informal reviews that you’d like to see him step into a management role. He shows interest in this. He seeks—and you provide—the training he needs to rise to the next level. And when he’s finally ready for management, he takes the reins…and everything falls apart. He struggles with the most basic requirements of his new role, and he can’t seem to gather his team behind him, gain their trust, or inspire their respect. But he showed so much promise! What went wrong?

The truth is, management positions often require entirely different philosophies and approaches then employee positions do. And no matter the level of technical and skill training an aspiring manger receives, not much can prepare her for the actual day she steps into a leadership role. Here are four things her supervisor (you) can do to make this transition more effective.

Turn Great Employees into Leaders

1. Recognize that successful employees are, above all, obedient. Their job is to execute orders and respond to instructions with a cheerful smile. But successful managers can’t get by on obedience alone. In fact, struggling too much to do what they’re told will likely hold them back. Managers need to unburden themselves of some of the weight of obedience and start giving orders instead of taking them. This reversal can be confusing for erstwhile star performers.

2. Mangers need to make unpopular decisions. They also need to frown sometimes, make others uncomfortable, and do what’s right for the company instead of what’s pleasing. Until now, most star employees have done everything they can to make their presence agreeable to others, and they need to learn to let this go…without compromising their sense of diplomacy and tact.

3. Managers – especially new ones—need the freedom to make mistakes, and they can’t do this if their sole focus is on team success. During the early stages of the transition, make sure you reward your new managers for showing leadership behavior, regardless of the outcome. Even if they take their teams over a cliff once or twice, recognize and incentivize decisions that show they’re adapting to their new roles.

4. Provide coaching, don’t just toss new managers into the deep end. For every poor decision, fumbled catch, or lost opportunity, stand by to help your new managers understand exactly what went wrong. Keep your door open, and teach them how to keep their own doors and ears open to their newly acquired direct reports. As you know—and your new managers have yet to learn—great leadership depends on great listening skills.

For more tips on coaching and cultivating leadership skills in your rising stars, arrange a consultation with the NC staffing experts at PSU.

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