When managers step up into leadership it’s often an underwhelming moment in the life of an organisation: a promotion earned through years of service, an excellent new recruit brought in, the boxes ticked. They haven’t had the chance to turn themselves into leaders.
The new leader might undertake training or get a mentor involved, they might not. This lack of attention to the transition, and how personal and profound the change can be, is why so many new leaders can struggle to establish themselves or just fall flat over time.
''They haven’t had the chance to turn themselves into leaders''.
And by that I don’t mean immersion in ‘good principles’ of leadership or even leadership practice. I mean the time to both understand what the real challenges of the particular role are going to be, and how they - as an individual and not a generic, one-size-fits-all leader - are going to be the best they can be.
Without this kind of transition, which involves a set of very personal changes: psychological, emotional, perhaps even physical, the new leader never quite fits into the role. They’re not comfortable, and the people around them can
see and feel it. There’s far more potential for uncertainty, a lack of trust and confidence on all sides. There’s reticence, an inability to make difficult decisions.
''This is why we need to look to the initiation rites of tribal cultures''.
A young member of a tribe wouldn’t be accepted into a new position of responsibility without undertaking a series of trials and time away from the community when they are in-between roles. This isn’t superstition or woolly tradition but highly practical and clear-sighted. They had to become a new kind of person - and that’s why mothers would weep as their sons left to take part in the initiation, not so much because they were going away for a time or facing dangers, but because they knew that when they returned they wouldn’t be the same person.