Be seen as a First-Time leader.

To be seen as a First-Time leader in your organisation.

To be seen as a First-Time leader in your organisation.

I was responsible for my work, delivered on results, had no complaints from my stakeholders, was academically qualified, and was involved in project teams and various taskforces.  

All those I did in order to be seen as a potential First-Time Leader. If you are a Human Resource or Business leader reading this, however, did what I share give you an indication of my potential to lead? 

My manager at the time would agree with you if your answer was in the negative or a ‘No’. In fact, he would tell me later on that I needed to ‘show more leadership’.  

You can imagine how confused after that. I displayed the traits that I thought would allow me to be seen as a potential leader. No one told me otherwise. Not even the organisation that I worked for.  

Maybe organisations should give more guidance to potential First-Time Leaders on what are the best leadership traits? 

The problem is that leadership is very subtle.

The problem is that leadership is very subtle.

When someone takes the time to listen, or offer constructive feedback via a coaching moment, or encourage collaboration to achieve better results, those are facets of leadership in action. The challenge with understanding leadership is unless you know it is happening and you are aware of what to look for, you will have no idea that it is happening at all.  

Leadership is very nuanced, and that is why the initial understanding of it for those new to the topic is so difficult. My manager understood leadership, so he could see that I was not displaying much of it, or at least not enough of it.   

Actually, there are two actions that an employee can take to be seen as a First-Time Leader.  

The first action is by the employee themselves. There are many questions to being a First-Time leader. When those questions are answered, the employee’s ability to lead will improve. What are your leadership questions that need answering?  

The second action is by the organisation. Does your organisation know what are the best leadership traits for its First-Time Leaders? Because in an environment where there is a lack of official guidance, employee will do whatever they think is right, and some of what they do might not sit well with the organisation. I wrote about why it is so important to specify the best leadership traits for your First-Time Leaders here.

Imagine for a moment…

Imagine for a moment…

I am assuming that you have read what I wrote on ‘The Best leadership traits for you’ blog. If you have not, in short, it is all about the organisation enabling their employees with knowing what are the specific leadership traits to be seen as a potential First-Time Leader.  

This is a vital step to starting a conversation about leadership in your organisation, especially at the level of your frontline employees, where most of your First-Time leaders will be internally developed. This specification of the leadership traits for First-Time leaders in your organisation will give guidance, topics to think about, and serve as discussion point in their ongoing performance appraisal.  

Specifying the leadership traits for First-Time leaders also benefits team managers who have the responsibility of identifying potential First-Time leaders in the first place. Right now, in many organisation (and very likely in yours as well), the assessment process in deciding who has leadership potential is almost dependent on the individual leadership preference of that team manager. There is little to no guidance from the organisation on what leadership traits to look out for. 

If the team manager has a strong understand of leadership, then potential leaders will be vigorously assessed. If not, then you get the picture. That is one explanation for the lack of consistency in the capabilities and ability of the First-Time Leaders in any organisation. Nobody knows what leadership traits to look out for. Hence team managers each make their own assessment as they go, or use the best available indicator, which is evaluation the technical performance of the employee.  

As I have mentioned at the start of this blog, technical performance alone does not give any indication of leadership potential. 

Swim lanes.

Swim lanes.

One counter argument that I have heard, for not specifying leadership traits for First-Time Leaders, has to do with allowing team managers the freedom and flexibility to determine leadership potential in their teams. This stems from a confusion between the ‘Why’ and the ‘How’ of assessing leadership potential. 

Specifying the leadership traits for your potential First-Time Leaders clarifies why someone should be a leader. It gives team managers a benchmark and actually free up more of their time and effort to look out for right indicators (words and actions) of those specified leadership traits. For example, if a team manager is looking for ‘collaboration’ as a leadership trait, he or she can be looking at numerous ‘hows’ (words and actions) as indicators. 

This is also beneficial to employees, because specifying the leadership traits helps them to anchor their learning, discovery, and understanding of leadership from the perspective of those traits. It will guide them to address the questions that they have about being a First-Time Leader, and serve as a platform for future discoveries into leadership.  

Finally, organisations benefit from potentially higher Return-On-Investment and increased Speed-to-Success on their leadership development efforts by focusing on training and learning opportunities that support those specified leadership traits. 

Keep the conversation going.

Keep the conversation going.

Communication and training need to be provided to the relevant team managers, so frontline employee can be made aware of those leadership traits, why they are chosen, and how it applies to them. 

To add more weight and momentum into the leadership conversations for your frontline employees and their team managers, those leadership traits must be officiated into the performance appraisal process. Doing this will signal and drive real behaviour change amongst your potential First-Time leaders across the organisation. Even their team managers (who are or were First-Time Leaders themselves) will be reminded of what it takes to be a leader. 

It is when the leadership conversations keeps going that that there is then the possibility of bringing about culture change and raising the level of leadership throughout in your organisation.  

Daniel Lee
June 8, 2021 | 6,821 views
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