Supporting your people leaders

People helping each other climb a steep slope, silhouetted against a
beautiful sky

High growth companies often struggle because their emerging people leaders don’t get the support they need. High growth needs good leaders. In reality, startups begin with very few people, flat organisational hierarchy where everyone wears many hats and no one has time to focus on leadership.

As companies scale, leadership levels start to appear. As this happens, companies need to support their people leaders. If not, they will end up with bad managers and that never ends well. Various kinds of support are helpful to different degrees. So how would you go about considering each kind of support? And what else should you remember?

Support options that are best for different situations:

  1. Reading suggestions — suggest books, articles, and other resources they should read.
  2. Formal training on concrete leadership skills — for example, skills around communication, delegation, providing feedback, nurturing a healthy culture, having difficult conversation, and more. Topics that we cover in our Leading engineering teams workshop.
  3. Peer groups — help normalise issues leaders have and provide general support and guidance. The groups can be organised either internally or externally. This could be either facilitated group discussions or working collaboratively to a self-guided syllabus. Sharing experiences with the group helps to build a network of peers you can rely on. Jade Rubick calls these Mini-M support groups. Our offering is called a community of practice.
  4. Challenge prospective leaders — use small projects, or leading smaller teams and coach them along the way. They will get to experience leading a successful project before they are promoted. And this provides a lower-risk environment for them to learn without a heightened fear of failure. Sponsoring is one way to challenge and draw attention onto a potential leader.
  5. Shadow other leaders in the organisation — watching your role model handle sticky situations can help with your own personal development. It will help to also pair on some of these situations for you to be able to practice. A small caveat is that there is less control over the quality and consistency of what is being taught.
  6. Leadership coaching — which once again can be provided internally or externally. Internal coaches have the benefits of lower costs and added context. External coaches have the benefits of external perspectives and distance from internal politics. Coaching is tailor-made and addresses the specific goals and challenges the leader has.

You should also take into account the level of seniority when considering the appropriate support. For example, a seasoned leader will not be challenged by taking on a small project. But even a seasoned leader could benefit from shadowing an executive level operator.

There are two more things you should ponder when supporting your people leaders.

  1. One is to actually allocate a budget for professional development, whichever you decide is most useful in your case.
  2. Second is accountability. It is important to balance reflection and to take action based on that reflection. Meaningful accountability is possible with collaboration between the coach and the leader’s manager. The leader and their manager need to set the goals, expectations, and context to be able to hold the leader responsible.

Part of the responsibility of leading is preparing others to lead. Ensure your people have the sufficient support they need to succeed. Considered support will mean your new leaders will not "sink or swim".

Supporting your new leaders will lead to long-term better outcomes for you, for them, and for your business. Did we mention we can help? Drop us a line to start exploring together.

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