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I’m a leader/manager/supervisor…now what?

How many people have asked this question?  Whether it has been asked of you, or by you, it’s almost a guarantee that you have heard this.  Many people begin with a company and as they learn the job and the corporate environment, they begin to get noticed as someone who has talent and ability.  But how many times has that same person been identified as a great talent, only to be put in a leadership or positional authority position and fail?  Why?  Who’s responsible?  How can it be fixed or avoided?

As I continue to strive for my own personal and professional development I come across many things that spark thoughts and feelings, and this topic is no different.  I’m currently attending two certificate courses through Ithaca College, and in one of them we were required to read an article titled, “Leadership’s Online Labs” (Reeves, Malone, Driscoll).  The premise behind the article is that people utilizing MMORPG’s (Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Game’s) are actually gaining leadership and business skills from playing these games.  As someone who has grown up around video games, and more importantly online games this article really made sense to and spoke to me.

Many times in an organization we can forget all of the components that are necessary to form great leaders, foster open communication, build relationships, etc.  Unfortunately that can be the ultimate downfall of an organization, from the inside out.  One of my favorite quotes from the “…Lab’s” article is “Getting the leadership environment right may be at least as important to an organization as choosing the right people to lead.”  Wow.  That is powerful!  Think back to your own experiences.  Has there ever been a time when, no matter how confident you are or were in your abilities, that you failed to produce as a leader because the environment wasn’t right?  Perhaps you have been witness to an event like this?  When someone is developing their capabilities, especially as a leader, it can not be assumed that simply because they have a title they have all of the answers.  In most cases when someone is promoted in to a position they have not necessarily dealt with the issues that they will need to deal with in their new position, and should not necessarily be expected to have all of the answers, much less the right answers!  Having the right environment in place to help nurture and grow that persons capabilities and experience, the same as when they were producing in other positions in the company prior to being promoted, is crucial.

This line of thinking is counter-intuitive to everything that we know today.  But one of the lessons from the “…Lab’s” article is that in these MMORPG’s the members of a team, including the leadership, are expected at times to fail in order to come up with a better solution.  “Organizations can help prepare leaders by fostering a culture in which failure is tolerated.  They can expose leaders to risk by mimicking the structure of games, breaking down big challenges into small projects.”  Many times in these games, teams will go on a mission with the intent of success and find that they are exorbitantly under-prepared.  In such cases they can retreat, reformulate, reorganize and try again utilizing the information gained from the previous failure.  In some cases this may happen a couple of times before finding the correct combination that allows the team to succeed.  I am not by any means suggesting that any business, least of all small and medium-sized businesses, should allow for continuous failure in the hopes of eventual success.  I am however suggesting it be made acceptable for failure to happen, so long as there are lessons learned from a valiant effort, with a new and more educated plan on the other side. 

New leaders in an organization, even promoted from within, are no different than a new hire starting with your company on the front-line.  They are going to need the extra attention necessary to move them, and your organization forward.  If you are promoting someone in to a leadership position, it is probably because you have identified them as being talented, intelligent, and capable.  Don’t forget that they need someone to show them how to use their talent, intellect and capability, and that person generally is you.

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