Lifeguards for Leaders: Who is watching?

I am a father of four.  With a sixteen year-old driver as part of that mix I sometimes think I have seen it all, but I am still hit by things that make me go Hmmmmm.  Here is one of those moments . . . . .

Who is watching your new leaders or new teams?

At swimming lessons for my 8 year old I looked down and saw 30+ kids, 5 instructors, and in the middle a lone lifeguard watching everything.  I saw the need for the lifeguard, but did not recall them being present for past lessons.  Later I asked my wife about it because one of her summer jobs was being a lifeguard, and sometimes she has proven more observant than me. 🙂   Her response – There is always a lifeguard because when you are teaching it is difficult to watch all the kids all the time.  There is real risk in not watching young children near water, when being 99% safe is not enough because the 1% has a name, parents, friends, and a beating heart. 

My mission is to be a guide for others so they realize the excellence they were born to achieve, and in living that mission I often engage with and worry about the safety of new leaders and teams.  My world is growth organizations and leaders/teams in transition, and I see the real risk in not having a lifeguard around to monitor safety/progress in their pools.  Here are three ways organizations create lifeguards for leaders/teams:

  1. Mentors:  Assign mentors(not their boss) to meet frequently (1-2x a month) with new leaders to see how they are doing, watch the team during the transition for evidence of issues, and just provide support.
  2. Six month transition plans:  New leaders need to connect with their teams, build the trust of their teams, and get assignments where they can generate wins for themselves/their team.   Formal written plans helps make this happen.
  3. Leadership peer groups: Some call it Leadership Orientation or New Leader Training.  Fortune 500 companies can afford a program, but the main benefit of these programs is to create a peer support network.  Peer support can happen with no impact on the income statment, so any organization can afford it. 

One myth . . . Our human resources leader is our lifeguard: You mean the HR leader who has to respond to daily people emergencies, do it now calls from the CEO, worry about legal compliance, and answer frequent questions about benefits/payroll/etc?  Reality check . . . Do you want your lifeguard watching the pool 70% of the time?

Lots has been written about leadership transitions.  Michael Watkins is an expert in leadership transitions and his research has determined 40% of leadership hires from outside of a company fail within 18 months.  Brad Smart is an expert in hiring and his research suggests that it takes organizations 18 months to let go of a bad leadership hire at the cost of 14.6x their base salary. 

A 40% failure rate is a lot of drownings.  I think organizations need to do a better job having lifeguards around. 

  • How safe is your pool for new leaders / teams? 
  • Who is your lifeguard?