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Seven challenges for emerging leaders

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Emerging leaders can find themselves struggling to balance contradictory demands in environments that are complex and ambiguous. Highly motivated, ambitious and eager to succeed, all too often there is a lack of support or senior role models to help them transition into their new role.

In our work with emerging leaders we have found seven key leadership tensions that can derail even those with the highest potential and capability:

  1. Execution vs engagement. There is increasing pressure to deliver across all business sectors but in order to focus on execution, there is reduced time to engage the team members who are so critical for delivery. This can lead to unproductive teams who lack commitment – often through no fault of their own.
  2. Strategy vs operations. Too much focus on strategy can mean operational factors are overlooked; too much focus on operations can mean that leaders miss the wider picture and fail to spot opportunities. It’s a tough balancing act made all the harder by a leader’s natural preference for one or the other.
  3. Leadership vs management. Teams and individuals expect to be inspired by their leaders. Management, though, is a different skillset. Too much management can leave people feeling unempowered; too much leadership and people don’t have the clarity they need.
  4. Work vs life. Emerging leaders work long hours and will do what it takes to embrace their new responsibilities. This can be coupled with a lack of skill or confidence in delegating. A healthy work/life balance is hard to achieve resulting in burn out and unsustainable effort.
  5. Leader vs friend. Emerging leaders find themselves in roles that are senior to those who were previously their peers. Rather than re-balancing relationships to reflect their new roles, they often try to continue to be their direct reports’ friend and struggle to have the gravitas and authority that they need.
  6. Decisiveness vs involvement. Leaders are paid to make decisions but need to listen to others’ viewpoints to ensure they make the right ones. Too much collaboration can be interpreted as indecisiveness while too much autonomous decision making can be perceived as autocratic.
  7. Teamwork vs developing individuals. Teamwork is essential to successful organisations – yet individuals need to be rewarded and recognised for their individual efforts. Getting this wrong can lead to lower motivation all round.

To manage this difficult balancing act, new leaders need to:

  • Understand where their natural preferences lie and anticipate those situations in which they need to adapt their style
  • Increase their comfort with ambiguity and recognise that there will not be a perfect, single approach
  • Consistently encourage feedback from a range of sources and learn from it
  • Be disciplined in regularly stepping back from their day to day role and reflecting on their performance as a leader
  • Our programmes for emerging leaders equip them with new personal insights to help them manage the areas that threaten to derail them.

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