When a mid-level leader gets promoted, their relationship with their team shifts. The leader may begin to view team members through a new lens and identify who has the capacity to take on their old role as well as who may need to step up and take on other kinds of responsibility — even before they’re fully ready.
Whether you’ve been promoted recently or not, it’s good practice periodically to make sure your plan for your team’s development — and your communication about it — are on point and providing the results you want.
Present Change as a Growth Opportunity
Start by being conscious of your team members’ reactions. Subordinates can feel abandoned or neglected if they’ve been relying on you for something you’ll no longer be doing. But they’re especially likely to feel rejected if you handle the shift too bluntly, so avoid announcing things like, “Look, this is the way it’s going to be,” or “I won’t have the bandwidth to manage the Schermerhorn task force anymore, so I need you to take it on. You’re ready, and you can do it.”
If you position the changes as the next steps in your team members’ career growth, the same requirements are likely to be better tolerated. For example, you might say, “I’ve been observing your work on the Schermerhorn project, and you’re clearly ready for the challenge of chairing it and leading the project. In fact, you’re already doing most of the basics. Let’s talk about what you’ll need from me to be ready to take the whole thing on yourself — and then we can partner on coordinating those results.”
Their Development Is Your Responsibility
Even if you’re used to communicating about development steps in a supportive and engaging way, it can be hard to keep others’ development at the forefront of your mind when you have so many other pressures. Of course, you’ll be concerned if Xerxes falls down on the job or if someone else tells you about a problem with him. Otherwise, though, you might let things run without noticing that Xerxes could do much better if only he had new software, some administrative support, or more access to certain experts.
Development is one of those things that often seems important but not urgent, so it can get short shrift. It helps to create a structure that ensures consistent focus. For example, if your subordinates are confident that you care about them and won’t criticize them for needing help, they’ll be more responsive when you ask for details in your one-on-ones: “What do you need from me to help you get that job done on time and on budget?” Or: “What do you need from me to get better results on that initiative?” Over time, the team will understand that you actually want to hear their answers, and they’ll trust you to deliver.
Consistent offers of support create a self-reinforcing momentum. If you forget to ask about people’s needs during a meeting, no one may mention it, but after a few weeks, they’ll wonder why. If you have the right relationship, they’ll bring it up, but if you keep forgetting, they’ll assume you don’t really care how they go about things and may even start withdrawing or withholding information.
Meet Them Where They Are
For employees who need more direction, set up a casual standup or check-in meeting two or three times a week over a three-week period. This way, less prepared and less assertive people can get the extra attention they need instead of being left hanging when they run into problems. After reassuring these folks that you can see how overwhelming or difficult their roles and responsibilities are, discuss the most challenging issues they’re facing. And be sure to ask explicitly what they’re not working on but are worried about.
Team members hate to feel they’re lacking, so present these meetings as experiments: “I don’t want you to feel like you’re only coming to see me when things are going badly — that could make you feel terrible. For the next three weeks, let’s have frequent check-ins so you can fill me in on what’s going well and also not so well.”
At the end of that period, ask: “Have you changed your views about anything during our three weeks of checking in? Do you feel more confident about the work? Are there policy changes we should think about? Are there areas we need to work on more rigorously because we’re weak?” By this point, you’ll know much more about what they need to learn and practice; where they need ongoing support; and their capabilities, preferences, and processing styles.
And be sure to let the team know where they’ve shown good judgment, made significant progress, and turned in satisfactory results. They’re much more likely to keep delivering when they know they’re meeting your expectations.
Onward and upward —