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Coaching First-Time Leaders

Coaching those on the cusp of becoming new leaders, whether by promotion or by joining or starting a new business, generally creates motivated individuals, but how can they balance risk and ambition to thrive in their new role?



Today, I thought it would be really interesting if we talked about coaching people who are just on the cusp of becoming new leaders.

What do I mean by new leaders? Well, it could be someone who's been promoted. It could be someone who is perhaps for the first time getting significant responsibilities, or, it could be somebody who is new to being an entrepreneur; someone who's just started up in business and is just beginning to come to terms with what that all means.

So, what do I, as a coach, see? What have I seen in either of those two scenarios over the years? Because I've certainly coached people who fast-track new leaders for organisations. And I've certainly coached people in start-up scenarios. Well, you see two different - albeit very similar - emotions, but you see two different motivations that are driving these people and that's great. Because they're motivated. That's great! Because they want to learn, develop, grow and gain from what's in front of them.

If we deal with a fast-track professional, someone who is being accelerated through the development program with a coaching program; to help them really maximise their talents and abilities then often the beauty of that is they're in a very supportive environment, their employer, their manager, their supervisor, is really keen that they're successful. So, the trick here is to understand what the starting point is, and what are they already really, really good at. What are they looking to grow and develop in as a leader? What does their sponsor, their boss, or the person paying the bill want from this next stage of that person's development? And therefore, how can you build that into a meaningful set of goals that you can both work through during the coaching program?

It's very often true that you find, at that point in that person's progression, very similar things. You'll see the ability to delegate. How good are they at delegation rather than trying to do everything themselves and trying not to allow anybody to make a mistake through micromanagement? How can they work out how to delegate much more effectively or very effectively because ultimately as they go up the chain of command, they have become increasingly more responsible. The ability to actually do anything, to physically get things done, becomes smaller and smaller and smaller because what you're really doing is allocating and coordinating, not physically doing work.

Another very important aspect that you see very often is time management. This is directly linked to delegation, but you can see that their ability to prioritise their time is not necessarily something they've really given enough thought to up to this point in their career. So, do they know how to decide what things they should be spending their time on rather than delegating and passing on to others?

That then leads to decision-making. Very often you'll find that new leaders are very nervous in the early stages about making decisions for obvious reasons. They don't want to make mistakes, and they're not sure it's their responsibility. They're a bit confused as to whether they should be asking permission or just cracking on, and so on and so on.

So, depending on the circumstances, depending on the issue, you can walk them through your questioning and support in a coaching session to understand the sorts of things that are clearly down to them. The sorts of things that are down to their teams and the sorts of things that they need to bounce off of their superiors often in my experience lead to the ability to manage stress.

People in new roles are always worried about failure. They're always worried about getting it wrong, understandably. And it's that desire to succeed, as opposed to failure or to accept failure, that's singled them out in the first place, but you don't want that to grow into a problem that in inhibits their ability to take risks, inhibits their ability to delegate and manage. You really don't want them to get any serious consequences of imposter syndrome.

If you put all those things together, you can then start to help them begin to create a vision, create an image of what their new role really is in their minds. What is the job that they are trying to do, and what is the job they're trying to grow into? They may have role models that they're trying to emulate, but at the end of the day, they'll do it their way. What is it that they believe they're now being charged to do? That then helps you create a vision of confidence, a vision of priority, the things that they really need to be driving competence in to be able to do the role that you've just helped them to create.

The great thing about these kinds of new leaders, these fast-track new leaders, is that they will try pretty much anything. They really will work jolly hard and they'll take most risks without being in any way careless, and that enables you, therefore, to stretch them as the coach that enables you to really help them push themselves with some pretty demanding stuff. Ultimately, that's why they're there. That's why you are there for that purpose.

So, what's the difference between that and someone who's starting again, or possibly starting a new business for the first time? Well, on some levels, it's the same thing. They've got to create a vision of what it is they're trying to create. Are they looking to create a business that's going to employ thousands of people, or are they looking really just to be vocationally committed and self-employed to doing the things that they simply love doing? Are they looking to create a one-man business or a micro business, as opposed to some colossal corporation? By helping them create a very clear picture in their mind of what success looks like you can start to frame up what the coaching program needs to be focused on.

If someone is looking to grow rapidly in a corporate context, then they need to be thinking like that. They need to be thinking about where they're going to get those kinds of customers. Where they're going to get the kinds of clients, and how they're going to generate those kinds of fees? Where are they going to get the team of people from, and how are they going to recruit them, attract them, retain them, and motivate them? How are they going to keep their own edge? How are they going to keep themselves competitive in that marketplace as they grow? How are they going to deal with risk?

The risk might be a financial risk; they may be borrowing money or getting support from investors. How are they going to manage their expectations and their financial needs while at the same time worrying about the financial performance of the business and growth? If they are a one-man band, it might be that actually what's really, really important is an income. The most important thing is they need to get short-term clients who are going to pay enough money for them to be able to support themselves and ultimately keep the business afloat.

And so, a lot of the conversations that you get them to focus on might be very short-term marketing initiatives, or it might be very short-term selling initiatives. It might be about how are they taking their business to market. How are they actually finding their clients? And have they thought it fully through, do they have a complete plan and so on and so on?

In both cases, as I mentioned, the risk might be there in terms of failure, but the risk might be there in terms of reputation as well. Both of those kinds of people might fear failure in terms of if I am unable to make this work, will I gain useful employment afterwards if I have to return to the job market? So, helping them think through what the worst-case scenario would be and realise that it’s not real. There is no real downside to their reputation because in the end, if you're a talented person, regardless of the background of what's happened, you will thrive.

So, there we have it, the differences in helping coach new leaders. I hope you found that interesting.


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