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Front Line Leadership: Getting It Right

by Jacqueline Ackerman on

When it comes to succession management, the emphasis is typically placed on the senior level. Much has already been said about the impact of retiring Baby Boomers within corporate America – a great deal of knowledge and expertise will walk out the door over the next few years. In many industries, there will be intense competition to recruit from a dwindling talent pool of graduates from the top schools. As a result, building a sustainable leadership pipeline has become imperative. Understanding front line leadership roles is crucial.

The transition from an individual contributor to a front line leadership role is among the most demanding and challenging of any change throughout one’s career. There is some truth to the idea that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. However, the Peter Principle is also at playthe idea that within a hierarchical organization, employees tend to rise to a level of incompetence.

Although an employee previously excelled in a role, he/she may struggle to perform in an advanced position because it requires qualitatively different skills or capabilities that the employee may not possess. Nowhere is this more apparent than in assuming one’s first leadership role.

However, far too often, organizations make the mistake of promoting people based mainly on their performance and technical skills with less consideration given to their management or leadership capabilities. As you would imagine, these promotion or hiring decisions are at an increased risk for failure.

Despite their best intentions, hiring managers are often incentivized to fill roles, and as a result, they may be more likely to give the “thumbs up” decision. Similarly, hiring managers often think like operators – they have an urgent need because of a vacant position and feel pressure to quickly fill the role, particularly when it is critical or pivotal to the organization’s success. However, it is in these situations that the need to get it right is even higher.

Given the number of Supervisor positions in any given company, compared to Directors or Vice Presidents, and the costs associated with recruitment, training, on-boarding, and turnover, organizations will need to decrease their chance of making “the wrong call” when deciding who to place in front line leadership roles. This is not the place to cut corners by relying solely on online tests to select or “weed out” candidates. In fact, we have seen that the most consistently successful organizations invest in the identification and development of their front line leaders through a robust, validated, simulation-based assessment procedure.

In order to do this well, companies will need to better understand what is required to be effective in this role. For example, what is the ideal supervisory leadership profile? What are the success factors? What distinguishes high performers from poor performers? What is the right balance of technical and supervisory skills? How important is delegation, coaching and developing others? Influence?

What other things are important to look for when assessing for front line positions? What are you doing to assess, develop and retain front line leaders in your organization?

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