Our most important leaders

If people are an organization’s most important assets, then I’m going to put myself out there and say the most important leaders are the NEW LEADERS:That first level of team lead, supervisor or assistant manager who steps up from frontline to manage their peers.

Team lead. Key holder. Supervisor. Senior staff. Assistant Manager. The titles are as varied as the individuals and organizations they are stepping up in. The key is

This first level of leadership is not only influential but absolutely critical to shaping company culture, employee engagement, purpose and productivity. So how do we best support them?

As senior leaders, if we want to set up our new leaders for success, we first need to understand there are some common characteristics of this group.

They are commited to you & the organization: To make the jump from frontline staff to that first level of leader expresses a commitment that moves past the “just a job” mentality to “an opportunity to start a career”. They see this move as an important first step.

It’s not about the money: In most cases, that first level of leader only makes $1 or maybe $2 more and hour than their peers. In businesses that haved tipped frontline positions, the leader actually makes less moving from a shift making tips to simple hourly or salary pay.

It’s tricky for them: There is a suitcase full of challenges that comes from stepping up from a peer group to establish yourself in a leadership role.. hmmm… makes me think of another post I can write on that… but seriously – they have a leadership title and maybe keys and codes to the business, but are still green as leaders.. and that can be challenging

They are very influential: Imagine you are 17 and working 20 hours a week in a retail store. The person you interact with the most is that team lead and the supervisor. You may never see the General Manager or the Store owner. Your perception of the store as a great place to work, a place that aligns with your values, a brand that holds your respect… is largely shaped by the beliefs and attitudes of the people you directly report to. So this leadership level is incredibly influential in shaping perception, engagement and attitudes

They are sponges: The desire to learn about the business, its systems, its moving parts and its bigger picture is never higher than at this first leadership level. I remember being in this role and being thirsty for any tools or knowledge that would help me be a better manager and improve my department, or help my team.

They have ideas. And feedback. Lots of it: This is a group that has just spent a ton of time at the frontline, and they still operate at the frontline. They are in the unique position however of now bridging a communication gap between frontline employees and the organization that supports them. They deal directly with customers and staff and yet are also now more aware of department goals, numbers and systems. So they have a unique perspective that tends to be at its freshest right in those first leadership weeks. The perspective is raw and may lack context but is unique and incredibly valuable.

They crave feedback: New leaders second guess themselves and don’t use their experience and instincts the way senior leaders do. They are constantly juggling what they instinctively would do as a frontline staff with what they think they should be doing as a leader. Because of that precarious balance, they need to know how they are doing, when they made the wrong call and how they could do it differently to get better results. They need to know what’s going well and what they should keep doing. When the feedback is non judgemental, this group can take a TON of it and in fact they crave it.

Christine 1996 (green shirt) and her team in Whistler

Consider this. As a new leader in Whistler in 1996 I led a team that worked their tails off in the busiest winter the resort had ever seen. We opened the biggest store in Whistler and

…we doubled an opening year budget of $1.2 million and yet had one of the most engaged, positive, cohesive teams I have ever worked with.

In fact, 15 years later when one of my staff posted this picture above to my Facebook profile taken at our Christmas party in 1996, here are some examples of comments that followed within a few hours:

Mark Schmid Holy Jumpin! There’s a blast from the past. That was a super fun crew for sure. Jonathan Schramm Good days in Whistler. That is a great crew.  Tina Demetriou Oh my god!!! they were epic days….awww!  Ayako Hirano Christine, You are still the BEST manager ever in my 26 years work experience!!! You were the true team leader!! I know that you will be really success on your new business 🙂  Kenny MacIntyre yep, heck of a team. i hope one day my family will end up back in whistler.  Karen Drgon bestest crew eva! lovely to see all those faces again! well done ali! christine, kyle, mark, … everyone… we rocked it! great job with us chris! xo  JF Robino Those days are the reason I never left whistler….very thankful for it! As hard as it would be to plan, we should have a 15 year reunion or something someday for anyone who can make it.

I read those comments and smile because each of these people is incredibly successful and to think that spending a season together 15 years ago impacted them to that degree… cool.

So having lived life as a new leader, and then having spent the following 14 years coaching emerging leaders, how do I think we can better support this incredible group in our organizations? If we did these four things consistently, I believe we would see incredible results: Results that would translate to higher revenues, better employee engagement scores, less turnover and more productivity at the frontline level. I also believe we would retain more supervisors and develop more bench strength in our leadership team. So here it is…. my list of four:

MAKE TIME FOR THEM : A new leader needs your time. As a mentor, as their leader, you are an incredible source of influence and information for them. Making the time to connect with them both in their work environment and in yours will yield lessons around every corner. Regular one on ones that focus on THEM not the laundry list of to dos: What’s going well for them? what are they finding tricky? What do they want to do differently? Department tours allow you to see their world through their eyes, show you what’s working and not and showcase their teams. Check ins via text, phone or email between one on ones show you are paying attention- to them and to the business.

FUEL THEIR LEARNING: This can be as simple as: sending article links from the web you come across that are relevant or stimulate thought; paying for a workshop to further their development; connecting them with people and resources that will inspire them and help them grow as leaders; have them come to you with a development plan and support them in the achievement of their goals; challenge them to tasks and projects beyond their current scope to stretch their ability to discover their abilities; Build on their interests and strengths as an emerging leader.

CONNECT THEM: Connect them to peers doing the same role in other departments; create opportunities for shared learning and experiences with other leaders; connect them to the organization, its goals and make sure they become clearer every day on how they contribute to your organization’s success. Some of this will happen by being connected to like minded new leaders, inspiring senior leaders and exposure to the interconnectedness of departments.

GIVE THEM FEEDBACK: Sure, performance reviews are great. But I am not talking about the once a year ones. Using specific, objective language, let them know how they are doing. The more immediate and specific you can make the feedback, the better the learning and the more you become credible as a mentor and leader yourself. As long as they know that you are giving the feedback because you truly believe in their ability to be GREAT, the feedback will be welcomed with open arms and taken to heart

So there it is… a few thoughts on this special group and a few thoughts on how to help them grow as leaders… and in the process impact your culture, your results and your level of frontline engagement. If your supervisors have the tools and skills to lead with confidence, you are truly giving your organization the greatest boost you can.

This post is dedicated to the incredible leaders I have had the privilege of working with over the past 15 years. You have inspired me in more ways you can imagine.