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Six Ways to Help a Non-leader Lead

May 7, 2014

By: Jennifer Lucas

When someone ends up in a management position that might not belong in one, not all is lost…there are some things you can do to help a non-leader lead!  It happens all the time: You thought you had the perfect person to take charge of a team…they had enthusiastic references, maybe they used to do the job and they rocked at it, or they managed a different department and had amazing success. All signs indicate they should be doing great, but for some reason, things just aren’t working out. You have unmotivated employees, deadlines are being missed, production is falling. What do you do?

Well, if you happen to have a time machine and can go back to before you hired/promoted the person, now might be the time to use it! Possibly, it was just a bad hire, or maybe it was a promotion that should not have happened. Often, top performers are rewarded for their successes with promotions to management. This may seem like the perfect prize for their contributions, but unfortunately, the qualities that make them a top performer in their current role may not be the same qualities that make a successful leader.

Let’s say you have Cal, a friendly, helpful, conscientious customer service rep., a top performer. As a manager, his best traits could work against him. He could be too cautious, too uncomfortable with conflict, and too uneasy dealing with situations that are not outlined by written procedures. Or maybe Martha is a top producing sales person who closes deals quickly and innovates frequently. In a leadership role, she could set goals that are overly aggressive, she may not enforce important rules, and she might not want to mentor or coach employees.

That’s not to say top employees can never lead, or that a struggling manager can't be helped, some may just need more guidance and coaching than others.

Here are 6 tips to turn things around:

1.    First off, make sure the person still wants to manage (or see if they ever did). The promotion might have seemed like a wonderful thing at first, but if the individual is experiencing daily, soul-crushing anxiety, maybe it’s time to let them step back. Make it clear that a reduction in management duties would not be a punishment, just an adjustment.

2.    Find out where the problem is. Are employees not being held accountable, is morale lagging, are people lacking direction? Observe the situation, talk to the leader and consider having them take a behavioral assessment to identify strengths and challenge areas. Interview the staff if you have to.

3.    Be prepared to mentor and guide, focusing on the biggest problem area first. For example:

  • Lack of accountability: Show them how to identify and address performance issues as soon as they arise. Offer support, but encourage them to deal with the problems themselves.
  • Lack of motivation: Stress the importance of providing praise and encouragement. Make sure the goals being set are realistic.
  • Lack of urgency: Verify  deadlines are clearly established and there are consequences for not meeting them.
  • Lack of stability: Check that processes are not being changed unnecessarily and that work is not being interrupted too frequently.
  • Lack of direction: Be sure the employees have all the information they need to do their jobs.
  • Lack of autonomy: See that the manager is not micromanaging.

4.    Once you figure out the problem, create a plan to correct it based on the biggest challenge areas. Check in regularly to make sure progress is being made.

5.    Since you don’t have a time machine: Hire right the first time. Make sure you do your due diligence when selecting people to lead your teams, and offer coaching from the outset. Even natural leaders will need some time to get up to speed.

6.    Find other ways to reward your best performers if they are not necessarily interested in or suited to become leaders. Offer more responsibility, chances to cross-train, or opportunities to contribute in a way that is natural and appealing to them.





Jennifer Lucas

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