Helping First-Time Leaders

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
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Long before the first organizational flow chart was ever even conceived, the question has been asked: Are great leaders born, or can they be created?

While a solid answer to that age-old query continues to elude us, Profiles International, headquartered in Waco, Texas, recently released a Top 10 list of leadership tips for workers moving into a managerial role for the first time.

According to the report, areas where first-time managers often stumble include communication, personal development, recognition, decision-making and guidance. And among the nuggets of wisdom from the report: "Set a good example. Demand from yourself the same level of professionalism and dedication that you expect from others. If you expect the team to be upbeat and friendly, then make sure you are! If you expect written reports to be error-free, then double check your own work." But what's HR's role in this development?

"HR should approach the training of neophyte managers with the idea that leaders are made, not born," says Sally Mounts, president of Pittsburgh-based Auctus Consulting Group.

She advises HR leaders to design trainings that "follow the optimal adult-learning sequence: discussion, practice/role-play in a safe environment, feedback on performance and real-world experience."

"This learning method is invaluable for reinforcing desired leadership behaviors," she says.

Mounts also says HR leaders should "not assume competency" on any single leadership topic, and they should also reinforce their lessons with real-world examples.

"Young [leaders] may roll their eyes when HR staffs repeat the same 'Do not tell a lie' mantra," she says, "but ignoring that precept brought down Enron, Arthur Andersen and Bernie Madoff, so point out the obvious, common-sense leadership principles and show why they work."

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Bob Acton, a business psychologist and leadership coach based in Ontario, Canada, recommends HR identify new managers before they start their new positions, then impress upon them that their new job requires a whole new set of skills, including, "most importantly, the ability to achieve results through others and not through their own individual contributions."

He also suggests HR develop a mentor program within the company to connect good, experienced leaders within the business with the new manager.

"This kind of relationship provides tremendous upside for the new manager, the mentor and the organization as a whole."

Michael J. O'Brien can be emailed at

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