Every day, in organizations everywhere, people are promoted to their first leadership role. They receive titles like supervisor, lead, foreman, or front-line leader. The titles matter less than the situation – people are moving from doing the work to leading the work. And every day, these people are congratulated, patted on the back, and sent into their future. They are scared, excited, anxious, and likely unclear about what is now expected of them.
The support that organizations provide these new leaders varies widely. While some have a very clear process of training and development for these new leaders, others provide little or nothing. However, in our experience, most all organizations miss what those new leaders need most and need first …
Put yourself in that role as a new leader. Once the excitement of the promotion wears off, what are you thinking? Yes, you are probably thinking you need some more skills, but you have a more immediate question. The question is some version of:
- What am I supposed to do now (and everyday)?
- How will I know if I am successful?
- What is expected of me?
Whether asked in exactly these ways or not, these are questions of clear role expectations.
In our experience, most new leaders move through the most challenging job transition of their life without knowing exactly what this new job is, what is expected of them, or how to be successful.
Let me be direct: If you want your new supervisors to be more successful immediately and for the long term, give them crystal clear role expectations.
What Clear Role Expectations Look Like
For your leaders to be successful, they need clarity in at least these four areas:
- The work itself. New leaders need clear answers to questions like:
- What is the level of work required?
- What should their activities be?
- How much of the work of the team should they do (or not)?
- What should their relationships with team members look like?
- What is and isn’t a part of their role?
- Are they representing their team, or representing the organization, or both?
- How will I know I am succeeding?
Questions like these go far beyond the job description, which sadly is often all that is provided.
- With whom do they need to communicate?
- In what ways and with what frequency?
- What topics should they talk about, and what things shouldn’t be asked?
Don’t leave this to their personal preferences or their past role models.
- Priorities. Once in a leadership role, the amount and variety of work expands immediately. Consequently, new leaders are asking themselves some version of: What is the relative importance of different parts of my job? Help them have a clear answer to this important question.
- Culture. Make sure your new leaders understand how you expect them to go about their work. Without this conversation and understanding, leaders will operate based on their comfort zone and past role models, which might not be what you want leaders to do, say, and think in the future. Help your new leaders see themselves as a leader of culture, not just work.
Who is Responsible?
For something this important, everyone shares ownership. It is easy to say everyone is responsible, but that typically means everyone thinks someone else is doing it. But for this to be most successful, all three of these parties need to work together:
- The Organization. This could look like “HR” or “Training” or “Learning and Development” – whomever is responsible for any other training and development of the new leader has a role to play here. They can provide answers to some of these questions with the offer letter, in any onboarding of new supervisors, or in some other programmatic way. While this is helpful, it isn’t enough.
- The Leader’s Leader. As the coach and supervisor of the new leader, this person plays a critical role. First, in clarifying the expectations for the specific situation, and then coaching that new leader as they work to reach those new explicit expectations.
- The New Leader themselves. If you are a new leader, you need answers to these questions. If you don’t have them, you can ask for them. While you need to be proactive, hopefully, you don’t have to do all the asking yourself. If you are in one of the other groups, don’t rely on the leader to ask if they aren’t clear. You can assume they don’t have the level of clarity they need, and you want them to have.
Hopefully this is helpful, and may have outlined a gap in your current new supervisor process. If so, please support those new leaders with clear role expectations as soon as possible!
If you would like to think further about a process for developing your new leaders, join me for the complimentary webinar Five Keys to a Wildly Successful New Supervisor Training Process on March 28 at noon ET. Register here.