You're a now what?

Yesterday, you were humming along happily doing your work when suddenly you were called into your manager’s office. She closes the door and you think…well, either I’m getting fired or promoted and you honestly aren’t sure which one is worse. As it turns out, you’re now going to be a team leader! You get a hearty congratulations, a new job description and comp sheet and are sent out into the wilderness.

Sound far-fetched? Far from it. Most of us who transitioned into leadership roles got little more than that. Maybe you got a binder with all the policies and procedures you were now expected to follow and enforce. Or maybe the week-long fire hose training course where you left feeling like you were even less prepared than before the week began! At least ignorance was bliss, now you knew just how unprepared you were to be the one that people looked to for guidance and support.

And the greater your responsibilities as a leader grew, the less training and support you received. At some point it even became an unspoken rule that you didn’t even think of asking for learning opportunities at a certain ‘level’ in a larger organization. You had the position and you should already know this stuff. If you didn’t…then you didn’t belong, so generations of leaders did the best they could in silence.

There are very few professional disciplines that are thrown into positions that they just haven’t been given the training and development to be successful. You wouldn’t want a first-year medical student performing your surgery or someone who took the LSAT and decided they’d make a good lawyer to represent you in even the smallest legal matter. Yet we put the financial future of our companies and our organizational health into hands that may have all the raw materials to make exceptional leaders, but we don’t show them how to do it. And maybe if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t show them because we don’t know the answers either.

We don’t have time for leadership development. We don’t have the budget for it. Our leaders are already overwhelmed and working crazy hours. There will always be reasons why it feels like developing leaders is just impossible given the accelerating pace of life. So the cycle continues, and it should be no surprise that we wind up getting what we’ve always gotten.

Leaders who are burning out faster than we can find new ones. Inefficiencies abound and while many do their best, most leaders just aren’t effective. We never prepared them for what we needed from them. For most of them, we never ever fully articulated what was expected. We shouldn’t be surprised that we are where we are.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Developing leaders doesn’t have to be a week-long offsite event, nor should it be. Very few of us can afford to be away from our daily responsibilities long enough to take a day or two off, much less spend a week learning a mountain of concepts that we will probably not be able to retain because we won’t use them fast enough for them to ‘stick’.

We need our leaders more than ever, and we need them to be armed with the tools and knowledge to be their best. We need to find ways to help them grow and develop into the exceptional leaders we saw in them when we placed them in those positions. And it won’t happen overnight. We need to start with the basics and do it in a way that allows them to learn bite-sized concepts and tools, apply them and then do the work that reinforces that learning into behavior. We start by planting the seeds, one by one and over time we will see the harvest we desperately need.

As 2020 rapidly approaches, let’s support our leaders and ourselves as leaders. Let’s make the decision that learning is cool and asking for help and support is what all the cool leaders are doing. Imagine your organization (or even yourself) where leaders are as highly skilled at leading as a surgeon is in the operating room. It would change everything.

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