Set your newly promoted leader up for success!


Promoting a team member up the ranks to management presents a certain amount of risk for business owners.

Choose the wrong person and you could alienate the team member, damage your reputation, and likely miss important project deadlines due to the new manager’s ineptitude. Conversely though, how many times have you heard this story “Mary was a fantastic welder/shop assistant/administrator (insert any other appropriate team member title here) but when we promoted her to a team leader’s role she failed miserably. Clearly she just hasn’t got what it takes to be a manager”.

Team members are generally promoted to leadership roles as they are very effective in their current role. However, you might be surprised to learn that nearly 40 percent of newly promoted leaders fail within 18 months. Taking that step up requires a new skill set and as business owners and leaders we often under-estimate how big that shift is. The good news is that the new skill set can be learned but when we promote we frequently use the “sink or swim” method of people development! You know the one….here’s your new job, your new team and when can you sort out those problem staff?

So what are the new skills a freshly promoted team leader needs to learn to be successful? In our experience, to lead others the new leader really needs to understand what makes themselves tick first.  What they really need to learn from day one is how to manage themselves! By this we mean learning how to manage their own emotions, not repeating old habits, proactively managing stress behaviours to remove barriers and learning how to build relationships that are essential to the new role.

The next phase is around not submitting to the daily pressures rather stepping back and prioritising what needs to be done first. New leaders need to learn how to prioritise, understand what the business and their manager’s expectations of them are and then work out a plan execution. This part is called swimming not sinking! They are other critical skill sets that need to be learned in the first 12 months that shouldn’t be taken for granted – skills such as delegation (if you’ve never had to delegate before you won’t automatically have this ability!), communicating clearly, setting standards and holding people to account, giving feedback (positive and constructive) and coaching your new team to deliver great results. Again – lots of new skills that your new leader may not have ever had the need to do previously.

The leap to people management is massive – skills that have not likely been used before need to be learned and applied very quickly. Once the skill set has been developed there are three other traps that business owners or managers fall into. Watch out for these:

1.    The new team leader needs to be able to understand and articulate the big picture to the team – why are we here and what is our purpose. It’s your role as their manager to provide them with that information.

2.    The team leader needs to be clear what roles and responsibilities they have but they need to be given the freedom to choose how to best manage the new role. Give them responsibility but don’t over-manage and tell them how to do the job as well!

3.    Lastly, don’t be tempted to over-manage by dropping down and communicating with the team without involving the new team leader. It’s very easy for the new team leader to feel very disempowered when this happens.

So next time you reflect on a poor performing team leader perhaps ask yourself was there a better you could have managed their promotion and their leadership development in the first 18 months?


About Author

Senga Allen

Human Resource specialist and managing director, Everest Group Ltd Waikato HR Specialists