Over the holidays, I took time to clear the mental and physical clutter that accumulated throughout the past year. This included everything from shredding old papers and clearing my inbox to letting go of some disappointments that were holding me back. In the process of Marie Kondo’ing my professional life, I forced myself to read dozens of articles I’d bookmarked over the past year. After a while, I noticed a theme that was so strong, I felt compelled to quantify what I was seeing. I created a tally for every time I read a leadership article that mentioned trust, communication, recognition, accountability, and empowerment. I began to ask myself if there’s really anything new in the world of leadership development if we just keep circling around these same things.
The truth, however, is we keep coming back to these same topics because these fundamental soft skills are essential for good leadership, and they’re also the same skills we’ve failed to foster in new frontline leaders. Understandably, the learning curve for a new leader is steep. The curve is often steeper for a high performing individual contributor who has been promoted to management than it is for an individual who exhibits informal leadership behaviors. New leaders are often given more direction and support to develop technical skills, functional skills, and strategy development than interpersonal skills. Yet, studies show that interpersonal skills are the #1 reason why new leaders fail.
Frontline leaders are under enormous pressure to perform and produce results while quickly building people management skills along the way. As they learn to manage priorities, address conflict, facilitate change, delegate, and communicate effectively, they often realize that they are unprepared to take on their new responsibilities. They are also often uncomfortable asking for support in developing these soft skills for fear that they will draw attention to their development needs.
To build a successful leadership pipeline, all leaders should regularly conduct a self-development needs analysis and target the key soft skills necessary for success. Whether the needs analysis is through a self-development SWOT, 360 feedback assessment, or the support of a professional coach, the result will be critical insights into the leader’s strengths, challenges, opportunities, and development areas. When frontline leaders are given a strategic pathway for self-development, they can tailor their development activities and align them to the most immediate business needs in order to accelerate their performance.
Additionally, regularly conducting a development needs analysis across all leaders in the business fosters a culture of continuous strategic development and commitment to lifelong learning. Leaders will feel more comfortable requesting training and sharing the lessons they learn in the process. Without conducting a self-development needs analysis and tailoring a training program to fit the employees’ needs, frontline leaders will continue to be overwhelmed by their new responsibilities and contribute to decreased engagement and higher turnover.