Whoever You Are
We’ve seen it before. The story isn’t new. Alex demonstrated phenomenal capability as a software developer; outstanding work, great results, best on the team. So “they” made Alex the team lead, or the team supervisor, or promoted Alex into a leadership role, outside of the developer role. Unfortunately, at that critical moment, Alex wasn’t offered any training, coaching, or mentoring, just a quick intro at the supervisor meeting and access to the L drive and HR portal. Alex’s coding days diminished rapidly in the face of the unchartered waters of management. And even when given time to code, Alex’s productivity and panache were somehow diminished.
Alex struggled. The team struggled. Grouchiness prevailed. Team members left. Productivity sank. The only “better workdays” anyone can think of are the ones of yesteryear when Alex was a developer, and all seemed right with the world.
You might be thinking of some other person, with some other technical capability who got moved into leadership with a similar result, or maybe you see one on the horizon. Maybe you are that person. Maybe you lead that person or have lunch with that person from time to time.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Let me offer three simple tips to avoid promoting good doers to people-leaders without guidance. You may not be in a position to do all three, but hopefully at least one will resonate with you!
1. Ask Alex.
Let’s imagine that we can go back to that moment before moving Alex to a new role. A healthy workplace is one in which Alex’s leader and Alex sit down and talk about Alex’s development plans over time. Alex’s leader makes time to understand what drives Alex, what lights Alex up, what Alex wants out of a role or a job or a career. They talk about what things look like 6 months from now, 1 year from now, 5 years from now. They talk about what Alex wants to do, likes to do, and needs, like additional training or development, in order to do well.
When promotion opportunities come around, Alex has had some training and takes a new role with a safety net in place to help ensure success. And that net includes some way to safely “try out” leadership and, with support, provide feedback about what’s working, what’s not, and how well the leadership mantle fits.
In this workplace, there are very few surprises. The team and Alex are supported the whole way through.
If you’re Alex’s leader, start having conversations like these. If you’re Alex, start having conversations like these. If you’re Alex’s friend, start encouraging Alex to have conversations like these. Let’s prevent this kind of disaster before it starts.
2. Raise your hand.
Let’s imagine that you’re a member of Alex’s team, and you’ve heard the frustration of the move. Let’s say you’re watching morale dwindle around you. Let’s say that your own morale is declining.
A healthy workplace is one in which people are the greatest asset, and there is both a collective desire for happy, engaged employees, as well as an open and honest dialogue about the workplace environment.
In an environment that’s going downhill? Don’t just sit there! Say something! Looking for a new job because you just can’t stand the environment you’re in is a bear. Raise your hand to your leader, to the person or persons who advocate for you and your team before you hit the job postings.
Look for opportunities to get support for Alex and for the team. Don’t do it from a selfish or self-serving standpoint: raise your hand and cite the cost to the organization. Turnover is expensive. Losing rockstar team members hurts. Don’t let it get that bad. Co-create a better workday for yourself and for those around you by being brave enough to speak up.
3. Offer/find help.
Basic, fundamental supervisory skills can be learned, but they aren’t “guessed”. Some people naturally intuit how to connect with, inspire, and motivate others, perhaps by watching great leaders. Others find that the set of leadership practices takes time, planning, and a whole lot of work. But rarely does anyone just “guess” (and guess correctly) how to lead.
Whenever possible, look for professional development support - training programs either offered internally or that you find on your own, mentors, coaches, even leadership book clubs can help when there’s a group of leaders talking through similar concepts.
If you’ve got someone in your area who finds themselves looking a lot like Alex, don’t wait another day, get them the training, coaching, and support they need.
A few years back, there was such constant demand for this support that I wrote a supervisory training series specifically to address the needs of those who are in leadership roles but who may not have gotten the training they needed to be successful. Check it out. Alex and team will thank you!