A Roadmap for New Leaders

By Trish Candler

Take a ride with me on a winding county road, pitch black with no streetlights, only an occasional flicker of a light at the house far away. It is your first time travelling this road at the wee hours of the morning, hours before the rising sun will light the path. The curves are unfamiliar and there are deer-crossing highway signs every few miles. Your headlights are bright but only illuminate what seems to be a very short distance in front of you. You long to see some taillights in front of you, and dread the fast approaching headlights behind you. People living along this road have driven it all of their lives, and could drive it blindfolded. 

Several days later, you find yourself on the same road, but this day there is additional traffic, and watching taillights you can almost “see” the upcoming curves. There are numerous sets of headlights behind you, and you realize you’re in the flow of driving the same winding country road and experiencing additional ease.

When I think about new leaders, I often wonder if it feels like a solitary trip down a dark, winding country road. What are the best resources for new leaders? Many companies offer robust leadership development programs focused on top leadership skills aligned with company values and business needs. In a perfect world, the program is offered at the exact moment the new leader is promoted. 

Absent this perfect timing for development, there are many resources that can help the new leader: a direct supervisor, mentors who can share their experiences, and many leadership books and websites.

One of the most comprehensive leadership development books out there is The Complete Leader. The book identifies the four critical development areas for leaders: thinking clearly, leading self, leading others and being authentic. And a key resource in the book is the self-assessment for leadership competencies. This is an excellent opportunity to determine the skills a new leader should focus on. 

It’s impossible to pinpoint one single competency that every leader should possess. This is why personally assessing all 25 necessary leadership competencies gives leaders the freedom and flexibility to customize their own development. 

Building on that, TCL contains content focused on affirming what leaders already know and practice well, along with action items to help them further develop competencies necessary for the role. Why send all new leaders to a class on basic presentation skills, if several leaders already excel in that competency? Better yet, if you knew the level of competencies within the new group of leaders, you could utilize this information to create a more engaging development program with immediate application for all participants.

Bottom line, new leaders need a variety of resources to be successful. They need to learn from tenured leaders and to be encouraged to become the most authentic leaders they can be. Every day in your leadership role, others are assessing you, and deciding whether you are the right person to follow on that winding road.