7 Ways to Ensure Your Employee Transitions Successfully Into Their New Leadership Role

By Samantha Sherman

Would you move an employee in marketing over to logistics without providing skill training and setting new expectations?

I am guessing the answer is “no.”

However, very often this exact scenario plays out in organizations when they move a strong individual contributor to a leadership role without providing an additional skill set and setting new expectations for them.

Picture a key contributor on your team. The employee is rated as a high potential, has passion and drive for the work, independently executes for results and is always proactive to do more.

Is he or she ready to be promoted into a leadership role? Maybe. Maybe not.

Has this key employee been reinforced with accolades for their individual analytic talents, unmistakable knowledge and breakneck speed of execution?  If so, great! This is what success looks like at the individual contributor level. 

However, will these skills resonate at a leadership level? Probably not. 

You have an excellent associate who has been reinforced in the daily execution and business analytic arena and now you want assessment, collaboration and consensus building. In addition, you have instilled the necessity to be precise and all-knowing. The leadership role will now demand innovative thinking, risk taking and a natural affinity to ask questions.  

With a current sense of supporting and guiding only themselves and having a directive decision-making framework, you will now expect this person to support and develop other team members’ skills and delegate work with assurance.  
And to top it off, don't forget the ability to brainstorm, be open to other team member ideas and share semi-developed thoughts openly for all to critique.

So, is this employee still ready for a promotion?  Can they meet the expectations of a leadership level?  Probably.  They do have the fundamentals of the business.  However, it is critical they have clear guidance, training and a new set of expectations.

Without these resources, this employee will likely lose ground, lose their confidence, and lose their staff's respect. He or she will begin to lean heavily into what was once success – independent work, executing directives, and insulated decision-making.

Within three months, the conversation will be about not meeting expectations.

It is critical there is just as much diligence around training of soft skills for leadership roles as there are of providing hard skills.  In addition, a clear set of expectations and a strong support system is also necessary.

In order to ensure your employee makes a smooth, successful transition, here are some guidelines:

  1. Understand the employee’s aspirations.  Is a leadership role even on their radar?  Many are happy, productive and successful as individual contributors and do not aspire to a leadership role.  Make sure you know where they stand.
  2. Fully explain what success looks like in this new role.  Make sure they see how they have excelled in their current role. Outline their innate strengths they bring to the table and identify where training and guidance will be required and growth expected.
  3. Provide a clear roadmap of what success looks like in this new role. Break down the job by hard and soft skills as well as providing a percentage of how these need to be seen on the job.
  4. Provide clear expectations of what soft skills are required to be successful: collaboration, innovative thinking, developing others, delegating, etc.
  5. Make it clear that mistakes are ok and they are learning moments. This will allow your employee to release the precise execution goal and focus more globally by welcoming other points of view.
  6. Provide the employee the ability to learn about his or her style. Help craft a personalized leadership brand as a foundation for their role.
  7. Set them up with a peer and for encouragement, a mentor. Having additional support systems during their transition will allow for timely training, feedback and guidance.

The employee ultimately owns their success in this new leadership role.  However, the more communication and guidance you provide, the more tools they have to work with to be successful. Good luck!