The Importance of Developing First-Time Leaders
In an era of “the Great Resignation,” gaps in management and leadership positions throughout organizations are more prevalent than ever. There are about 10.5 million job openings in the United States and approximately 1.2 million job openings for managers, which means that 10 percent of all open positions are for management positions.
With the labor market so tight and the competition for talent so high, many companies are relying on internal promotions to fill management positions. Internal promotions can be a powerful and positive experience for both the company and the employee — the company can fill a position, and the employee can advance their career. But the common process for internal promotions — finding the best worker and giving them a new title, a new job description and a raise — often lacks one key element for first-time leaders: intentional leadership training.
For most employees entering a new role, it’s standard practice to go through training. Usually, the company provides a training curriculum to teach the employee how to do the tasks required for his or her specific role. Janitors are taught how to clean restrooms, safely use chemicals, and mop and vacuum. Floor cleaners are taught how to strip and wax floors, use swing machines, and shampoo and extract carpets.
Meanwhile, for management positions, there is no standard for training, if any training at all. Especially when it comes to internal promotions, the common practice is to promote the best individual performer and assume that because that person has been an excellent employee thus far, he or she will be just as good in a management role. But the skills needed to be an individual performer are very different from the skills needed to lead a team.
Successful leadership requires a toolkit of soft skills, from prioritization and communication skills to being able to build trust within a team. Still, most new leaders never receive intentional training on these skills before they are assigned the responsibility of managing a team. When companies don’t invest the time or resources into preparing these individuals to be successful, they are set up to fail.
In conducting a survey of over 50 current building service contractor leaders, the participants were all asked a straightforward question: “Were you given leadership training before your first management assignment?” Only one participant said he had received training. Everyone else said they had been put into a management position and given little-to-no training. The training they had received was usually around customer relationships, not around leading and engaging people.
“I was willing to lead,” one participant said. “Just not prepared.”
Another participant commented, “I had to do my best and learn as I went along. Unfortunately, that meant a lot of learning what not to do.”
In Peter G. Northouse’s book, Leadership: Theory and Practice, 7th Edition, he tells a similar story. Northouse states that only 13 percent of organizations believe they have done a quality job training their leaders. But the current system of letting leaders learn as they go is having a detrimental effect.
In failing to develop leaders and taking the opportunity to provide intentional training to first-time leaders, organizations are missing an opportunity to improve the overall success of the company. For example:
1. Leaders impact employee engagement. When employees are engaged in their work, they feel invested and passionate. They contribute to a constructive workplace culture, serve as brand ambassadors, and positively influence their peers. Under poor leadership, these same employees can become disengaged and take a “quiet quitting” attitude.
2. Leaders impact employee retention. Turnover is an ongoing challenge in the building service contracting industry, and management is often cited as one of the key reasons an individual leaves an organization. Leaders play a direct role in an employee’s on-the-job experience — a compassionate, communicative, and helpful leader can make work a positive experience for an employee. In contrast, an untrained leader who doesn’t know how to correctly engage or motivate employees can create a negative work environment. By intentionally developing leaders and teaching them effective people-management skills, organizations can improve employee retention.
3. Leaders impact service delivery and customer retention. Customer service is critical in the building service contracting industry, and the most important component of this is the quality of work being performed by the workforce out at client accounts. When that workforce is poorly managed, disengaged, and experiencing constant turnover, service failures and customer complaints will inevitably follow. If the problem persists, contracts are cancelled or put out for re-bid.
4. Leaders themselves are more engaged. When first-time leaders are properly trained and supported, they can feel more confident and empowered in their new roles. Instead of learning by trial and error — and dealing with the consequences of making mistakes along the way — they are given tools to help them transition into their new role as leaders.
Companies need to rethink first-time leader development and prioritize preparing individuals to lead the workforce into the future. By conscientiously developing management candidates before they are tasked with leading people, companies can create an engaging work environment, retain employees, and improve customer service. Purposeful development is a better way of caring for new leaders while they care for their employees and customers.
Peter Cain is a building service contractor executive with over 30 years of industry experience. He is a Certified Building Services Executive and is currently pursuing his Doctorate of Business Administration at Grand Canyon University. His dissertation proposal is focused on the relationship between frontline leadership and its influence on employee engagement.