Leadership development: transitioning senior-level employees into leadership roles

Leadership development: transitioning senior-level employees into leadership roles

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A capable, accomplished team leader is unlikely to just show up at your company’s door. Trying to find one of these gems during a hiring process can be time-consuming and frustrating. A better way can be to help your existing team grow into a leadership role within the company. Nurturing employees who you see as ideal candidates for a leadership role is a great way of fully assessing their ability - you already know how they interact with their team, their ethos and their strengths.

Quote explaining that good leadership can help meet performance goals

We know transitioning an employee into a leadership role has its obstacles. After all, there is a difference between an employee being merely good at their current job, and an employee having leadership potential. Here is a helpful guide to transitioning senior level employees into leadership roles to create an unstoppable team.

Determine If the Employee Is Fit For Leadership

This may seem obvious, but before you begin the transition, it is important to double check if the employee is really suited to a leadership role. Ideally, the employee you are working with should not only fit the responsibilities of the position, but their approach should align with your company’s core values and ethos. This doesn’t mean they necessarily have to have a CEO’s big picture vision. It just means the employee should be future focused and able to see themselves growing with the company.

Things to look out for when determining if an employee is fit for leadership include:

  • Having a skillset that fits the demands of the leadership opportunity
  • Having career goals that align with company goals and core values
  • Showing a clear understanding of the company's expectations for the leadership role

Start small and slowly make changes

Once your employee has blossomed into a successful leader, they should be capable of influencing positive change. However, whilst you are helping them to transition into a leadership role, it may be wise to keep prior systems in place until they become more experienced. A good team leader needs to have spent time working with the team and others in leadership roles, so this can only be achieved with time and patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day - and neither are  experienced, capable leaders.
Starting small also means that senior level employees can learn and try new things without the risk of damaging company performance or making any permanent changes.

Another key part of transitioning an employee into a leadership role is leaving room for mentoring and receiving feedback regularly. Not only does this help you assess whether the employee is suited to a leadership role, but it also gives the employee time to decide whether leadership is really something for them.

Allow room for creativity and growth

While starting small and taking a slow-and-steady approach is key for making the transition smoother, transitioning employees should still be given room for growth. You don’t want your employee to feel boxed in too quickly, or feel as if they’re already committed to something they haven't decided is the right fit.

When the transitioning employees have gotten to know their new positions and have had time to get comfortable, they should be left to exercise their own creativity within the standard responsibilities. Allowing them to put their own personal stamp on the role, weaving in their own ideas, creates the opportunity for improved strategies or processes. As well as improving existing systems, your employee will start to feel the satisfaction that leadership roles can provide. Seeing real changes getting made, thanks to their own input, can be a huge boost to a transitioning employee’s confidence.

Provide guidance

Although you may have chosen an independent, capable employee, when transitioning them into a leadership role, you will need to provide them with a lot of guidance. Providing meaningful guidance doesn’t just mean the occasional pat on the back or one-off email. You may want to look into providing on-the-job training, personalised coaching sessions and networking opportunities. If senior level employees need some support, you should still provide them with guidance, but avoid giving clear solutions or answers. They should take on the challenge and solve the problem themselves, with a push in the right direction on your part.

Another key aspect of guiding your employees is providing feedback and having regular check-ins. You can touch base with the transitioning employee to ensure they are handling their new responsibilities. Also, it’ll be useful to check in on the team members the new leader is supervising. The employees they are responsible for will be a great source of information on how your employee interacts with their team.

‘Checking in’ on transitioning employees can also mean giving them an opportunity to suggest improvements themselves. They could suggest a new responsibility they think they can handle, or make a leadership decision that needs the backing of higher ranking team members.

Build leaders

When transitioning an employee into a leadership role, you are doing a lot more than merely filling a job vacancy. You are changing the way they interact with their team and how they view themselves as a figure of authority.

For example, you can help develop transitioning employees as people by focusing on things such as self-awareness, ownership mentality, how to motivate and support team members, and showing empathy. You can read up on “How to be a good manager and leader: The ultimate guide” if you want to know more about what makes a good leader.

Conflict, motivating teams and performance reviews are some of the biggest challenges managers face

Foster community and partnership

Often, employees who transition to leadership end up becoming managers of their peers. Although this is a natural effect of career progression, it can sometimes be a tricky social and professional dynamic to navigate. Newly transitioned leaders will also have to collaborate with other leaders, who previously would have been senior to them. As well as getting to grips with these new working relationships, you should ensure your transitioning employee has a community and partnerships available to them.

Encouraging a positive culture of inclusion and a sense of community will help everyone involved (like the transitioning employees, their peers, and existing leadership) get accustomed to the transition.

Building partnerships with people already in leadership roles will also help to deepen a transitioning employee’s understanding of your organisation. This links back to the first step in transitioning an employee - checking if their values and ethos align with the company and their team. Developing relationships with other team leaders means your transitioning employee will understand the company’s mission, important goals, and how their role impacts the success of the organisation.

Meaningful changes to your organisation can’t be made overnight - but the decision to transition employees from within your team into leadership roles is certainly worth the trouble. With your company’s guidance and mentorship, you will have a leader that fits your requirements to a tee and unlock potential they may not have even recognised in themselves. Don’t wait for excellent managers to come to you - create them yourself.

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