Avoiding Missteps in the Leadership Development Dance

Leadership development is a complicated dance – both for the established leader and for the new leader. There are plenty of opportunities for missteps to be made on both sides. Let’s take a look at three areas where things can go wrong, and how to make them right.


Established leaders: One of the toughest aspects of delegating authority is setting expectations. You may unknowingly make assumptions about what the new leader understands about his or her new role and responsibilities, setting both of you up for disappointment. To prevent this, you need to establish with absolute clarity details such as what the responsibilities are and how to perform them, what you want to be apprised of and when, and the outcomes you want to achieve and the timeline for them. If you realize along the way that you did not do a good job at setting expectations or that what you said may have been misunderstood, get together with the new leader to level set matters. Own your part of the problem, clarify expectations, and establish a plan for moving forward.

New leaders: When you are given a new role and responsibilities, you should bear in mind that established leaders may make assumptions as discussed above. This is not done maliciously by any means; it is just “one of those things” that can happen. To counter this tendency, you should actively probe for information about what is expected of you. Continue asking questions until you feel that you fully understand your new position, then re-state or paraphrase what you heard to verify that your understanding is correct. If, down the road, you find yourself getting surprised by negative feedback, reprimands, or other indications of frustration from the established leader, take the initiative to call a meeting to clarify expectations. Do this as soon as you sense that something is off-kilter; the longer you go without clarity, the greater the damage will be to you, your relationship with the established leader, and the business.


Established leaders: When you give someone leadership responsibilities, you need to respect and honor that person and their newly-acquired authority. No micromanaging or taking back! Otherwise, you are giving authority in name only, undercutting their development as a leader, and interfering with the responsibilities you have assigned to them.

New leaders: When you are given leadership responsibilities, you need to step up and do. Respect is earned; it does not come automatically with a title or a job description. However, if you are seeking to do your job well and you find yourself micromanaged or your tasks snatched away from you, you have a new responsibility: to speak up and discuss the matter. This is part of taking ownership of your own development.


Established leaders: Don’t throw new leaders in at the deep end and then walk away! Your leadership development task doesn’t end with setting expectations and respecting the new leader’s authority. You have a responsibility to continue mentoring the new leader. That includes regular communication with them to ascertain what obstacles they are encountering, where they may need support, what additional training they might benefit from, etc. Offer the benefit of your experience and expertise. Always bear in mind that your goal is not to make a clone of yourself, but to help the new leader reach their maximum potential in their own unique  way.

New leaders: Don’t be afraid to call for help if you feel like you are drowning! You are in a new role and you have new responsibilities: you will not know how to handle everything immediately and you will need help along the way. Ask for it. If, perchance, the leader who put you in this new role is not able to mentor you well (not everybody has that skill), seek out other resources to get the input you need. Resources include other company leaders, executive coaching, books, and online material or programs.

So, whether you are an established or new leader, recognize that you have a vital part to play in this intricate dance. Proactively take steps to ensure clear expectations, mutual respect, and continual growth and, if problems arise, address them swiftly and collaboratively. Mastering the dance of leadership development positions everyone – and the business as a whole – for success.



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