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ARK Associates - Why all new leaders need a coach

Posted on 19 December 2019

ARK Associates - Why all new leaders need a coach

Promotion can rapidly lose it appeal as the newly-promoted person gets under the skin of their new role.  Sue Bilton of NOF member company ARK Associates looks at how to support people as they make the challenging transition from manager to director; or executive to manager. 

We promote people, then expect them to become someone else.  They’re expected to know, just like that, what to think, believe, say and do the moment they become a manager or director.

It’s not just a case of needing more skills: it’s more complicated than that. The real challenge is that promoted people need to completely rewire their self-image.  All the skills that brought them to this point may now be redundant: and that can be terribly shocking, rocking the individual’s confidence.  Newly-promoted people can be at risk of making mistakes – or developing Impostor Syndrome - just at the time when they need to be making their mark.

For example, take Julia.  Julia is a talented Sales Manager who has become Sales Director and is now completely removed from selling.  She will never do it again.  Instead, she is expected to know immediately what to do about big challenges like how to handle the boardroom, the media or the in-house politicians.  And then she’s expected to plan.  She’s done a bit of target setting and sales monitoring, of course, but she’s never been exposed to creating a three-year sales strategy to run parallel with the marketing plan.

Julia’s role has been filled by Rob.  He’s a great sales agent, but he won’t get to use that skillset any more.  Instead, he’ll need to get other people to do it; and to do it as well as he does.  He now has a teacher-mentor role. However, that doesn’t mean he simply has to tell them to do precisely what he always did – because that won’t always be the right route for other people.  So he has a coaching role, too.  And what about the presentations; the performance management; and the politics?

It would be easy for Julia or Rob to conclude that all the skills that brought them to this point are just about worthless.  These skills and talents are now a very small part of what they’re each going to have to do.  They need a completely new skillset – and a new mindset.

Most people realise this just after they get into the new job.  For some, it comes with a crisis of confidence as they question their own competency.  They’re back to feeling just like they did when they were the office rookie who didn’t know how to work the photocopier. 

It is therefore extremely important that companies support newly-promoted people at this critical point, in the first few weeks into their appointment.

Coaching is perhaps the most useful form of intervention at this point. It’s supportive and takes effect immediately, boosting or propping up confidence before any real harm can be done or any reputation-damaging mistakes can be made.   It can be helpful if it comes from a neutral “outsider”, someone who will ensure concerns and uncertainties can be voiced honestly, because these are off-the-record.

Ideally, a programme of coaching interventions would be agreed with all newly-promoted people at the time of their appointment.  Agreeing coaching at this point ensures the intervention is seen as supportive, helping people excel in the new role.  Compare that to coaching offered a couple of months into the tenure – which could easily look like a reproachful remedial measure and may do even more harm to fragile confidence.  And of course, coaching is never wasted – if the new leader takes to the role like a mallard to water, the promised coaching will only help that person be even more impressive at greater speed.