Part of my team and I are exhibiting at the American Society of Training and Development International Conference in Denver this week. Yesterday, as a part of the conversations we had with participants, several asked if we provide training for people to prepare them for supervisory/leadership roles before they get those jobs. As we debriefed our day and discussed these requests, it got me thinking (I didn’t have any of those conversations personally). With the advantage of time to reflect, here are my thoughts about this situation.
1. Congratulations! You are in the minority of organizations if you are even asking this question. Most organizations aren’t thinking proactively about helping people before they get promoted. In fact, far too many don’t provide this important support even after they promote people to supervisory and leadership roles.
2. It’s the wrong question. It isn’t completely wrong (again, the intention is great), but providing training isn’t really the complete answer. Remember that leadership is a verb, not a noun. People learn to lead by leading – not (only) by sitting in training, however good it is. Remember too that these skills of great leaders are skills of highly effective professionals (and human beings) regardless of their role.
Given those partially competing thoughts, what would I encourage forward thinking companies to be proving them as support? Here is a list of three high impact ideas.
Give people opportunities. How can you give people a taste of leadership, with a safety net? Can you empower them in new ways? Have them lead an ad hoc team? Delegate small leadership assignments to them?
Give them a mentor or coach. You could build a formal mentoring program with the purpose of helping your future leaders grow into those roles. Or if that doesn’t work in your situation, you could simply encourage them to find one themselves. A mentor who has led for some period of time (but not necessarily for a long time) can be a perfect person to help someone build confidence and competence to lead when the time comes.
Help them change their perspective. The successful shift to the role of leader requires that we think about the world and many situations differently. Again, in formal and informal ways, help people see this new perspective. A mentor may help with this, as well as rotational assignments in other departments or business units. You can also build roundtable discussion groups to bring current leaders in to talk to your future leaders, create book clubs so these folks can discuss concepts they might not have considered before (or even just suggest books for personal reading). The list of options here could go on and on.
You may have noticed that training isn’t on this short list. Training can be a part of this plan (and we would love to help you create it), but it isn’t necessarily the first piece we’d recommend. Get started with these others first, and you will be helping your future leaders grow into their prospective roles.