by Michael Holland    

Most leaders take on their first management role between the ages of 28 and 32.  They are put in charge of their former peers and expected to continue producing top notch work while they take on managing the team.  New to the job and with no training, these new leaders fall into habits which will limit their capability in the role and more importantly create questionable lifelong leadership habits which limit their potential for great impact.

New leaders are trying very hard to be successful, but too often, their mistakes are the outgrowth of their environment and the lack of good training and coaching.  You have probably seen these five mistakes new leaders make (and possibly noticed them in seasoned leaders as well).

  1. Believe there is a perfect way to manage others.  New leaders look around and see seasoned leaders who make the work of leadership look easy.  It seems as if there must be a secret book or something that will reveal the formula for being the perfect manager.  It’s difficult for a high-performing individual contributor to not expect that there is a perfect way to manage, but the truth is that each leader must find the leadership voice and style which works well for them.
  2. Model their behavior after powerful leaders in their organization.  HiPPO (the highest paid person’s opinion) leaders appear to be great leaders.  But while we may think status and pay equal intelligence and good leadership, there is actually little or no correlation.  New leaders have great difficulty delineating between power and influence (with the former being more easily seen by the wide-eyed rookies).  In addition, many of these “seasoned” leaders have spent 10 to 15 years in leadership roles without training, and may very well lack a deep understanding of the true role of a leader.
  3. Expect they will excel at management because they excelled in their prior role.  It is very difficult for anyone to move from a position of success to a different role.  If we moved the Controller to the role of Sales Manager, we’d expect that she would need time to be good in the new role.  New leaders are most often leading their former peers, and while they are intimate with the work of their team, their role as the leader is a completely different job.  Because of this, new leaders make the mistake of misjudging how quickly they can become proficient in the role of a leader.
  4. Underestimate the value of honest, direct and consistent feedback to employees.  New leaders do not have a leadership voice yet.  They are unsure of how to handle conversations that on the surface seem to deal with conflict.  When they eventually build up the nerve to have a sensitive conversation, these leaders feel like a 10-year-old coming up to bat against a major league pitcher.  New leaders speak too seldom and not about the right things.  Unfortunately, this is often repeated behavior they witnessed from their bosses over time.  They miss the opportunity to create a leadership habit of communicating early and often.
  5. Manage their “to-do” lists in the same ways they did as an individual contributor.  While these new leaders are tasked with some of their former work, they do not recognize that a new job requires new tools (or at a minimum, adapted tools).  They utilize the same habits that made them successful as an individual contributor, unaware that the work of a leader is much different and requires different thinking skills.

We must seek to enable new leaders to learn successful leadership habits as early as possible so that they can become models for future leaders to replicate.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • Have you ever made any of these five mistakes as you’ve grown as a leader? What can you do to prevent new leaders on your team from making the same ones?
  • Why do you think so many new leaders feel that a strong performance in their former position guarantees competency in their new role?
  • Mistake #4 in this Leadership Learning Moment talked about the importance of feedback. How can a new leader learn to provide feedback often and about the right things?