Supporting New Leaders

February 19, 2013

Today’s guest post was written by Carol Pollack, Vice President of Finance & Operations.

Elizabeth Krause recently assumed the role of Vice President of CommunicationsYou are the leader you jump first
& Public Policy at the Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health).  As a result, she is a member of the foundation’s leadership team.  Not only will she need to learn new functions and manage new staff, she will need to contribute on a day-to-day basis to the overall functioning of CT Health.

I hadn’t given much thought to what this must be like for her, but I got a glimpse from an article entitled Some Advice for New Leaders in the New Year written by Bill Catlette of Fresh Milk from Contended Cows (Contented Cow Partners is a consulting firm focused on leadership and employee engagement).

What are the challenges?

It sums up in three words – time, money and expectations.  Sound familiar?  Catlette notes that new leaders have three challenges:

  • Often, they must assume leadership positions where they are immediately expected to make major contributions without the benefit of formal leadership training – for them or their managers.
  • There is little luxury for on-the-job learning or for the occasional mistake that often arises from new responsibilities.
  • Leadership requires great courage and resilience.  He highlights the extreme level of activity that we all face, often driven by others, and the higher standard leaders are held to by virtue of their position.

These challenges resonated with me.  Economic pressures have led to fewer training dollars, especially for “soft” and individualized skills like leadership.  Time is also a factor as the pace and complexity of change, coupled with technology, requires immediate, error-free and efficient problem solving.  As a result, the learning curve is very steep and time pressures make the new leader reluctant to take focus away from “what” they are doing to “how” they are getting it done.  And, as if that isn’t enough, expectations of success are high for the organization and for the new leader.

How can we help?

We promote leaders partially in recognition of the good work they’ve done in the past. Let’s  keep this pattern going, and not set them up for failure. Recognizing these challenges is the first step but we shouldn’t stop there.  I think we can help in these important ways.

  • Work to set aside money for training and ensure that we promote an environment that is supportive of personal growth and prioritizes those tasks.
  • Practice tolerance.  Leaders are, after all, only human. Mistakes are inevitable. Giving a new leader leeway for the first six months or so allows them to learn the job, take some risks and grow their confidence.
  • Encourage new leaders to read Catlette’s blog post, which offers quite a few useful tips. It’s advice I wish I had had early on.
  • Provide new leaders with perspective.  For instance, most decisions are reversible, every request is not critical and people can be unhappy at times and it is okay.

Over the years, I have made mistakes or been overwhelmed, and as a result felt frustrated and disappointed by my performance.  Over time I’ve gotten better at the work, but more importantly, I’ve come to understand that everything can’t be controlled, I’m not going to be perfect and I can’t let the perception of myself be determined by others.  If we can do the above and help new leaders learn these lessons sooner we will have made a difference.

What other things do you think can be helpful?

Image purchased from © andrewgenn – Fotolia.com

One Response to Supporting New Leaders

  1. Pat Baker says:

    Thank you for this. In the rush to “get it done”, we don’t often pause to reflect and to consider what it takes for organizations to nurture leadership and meet expectations. This helped. Thank you,

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