One of the challenges for organizations is how to develop new leaders. First time supervisors need to learn how to make the transition to leading others. Often this involves the potentially awkward circumstance of managing co-workers that he or she used to work alongside. The common mistake is to just promote someone who was a good worker and assume they will also be a successful leader. I see this often in sales organizations where a great salesperson often makes for a poor sales manager. They truly are different skill sets. Developing an organization’s human capital is one of the key ways to differentiate in a crowded marketplace. In fact, I would argue that it’s necessary to even survive. Rather than leave it to chance, successful companies invest in their people and equip them with the skills to be successful leaders.
I recently visited with Sara Jane Hope, CEO of Positive Dimensions, LLC, who is a frequent teacher on the topic of training new leaders. Sara Jane grew up on a family farm in Indiana and completed her undergraduate degree at Purdue University and her master’s at Murray State University. Her 30+ year career in training and development includes being a senior instructor of management development for Skytel and executive director of staff training for MINACT. She also served as vice president of training and development and vice president of human resources at Valley Services Inc. In 2010, she launched her own training and development company in Ridgeland, and now travels the country working with companies on leadership and management training. She is a certified coach for the nationally known Kevin Eikenberry Group and will be co-authoring a book with its founder. In addition, she facilitates a program for this group called “Bud to Boss,” which teaches employees how to make the transition from being an employee to being the boss.
Sara Jane shared with me some of the core principles she teaches new leaders. She noted, “I am a Ken Blanchard fan, and my leadership philosophy is grounded in his teaching on being a ‘one-minute manager’ as well as situational leadership because I believe you should spend time with each of your direct reports doing the one-minute goal setting and praising as well as understand that each employee has different needs at different times.” She also shared that she teaches the key principles of the DDI Skills for Empowered Workforce, which include: maintaining and enhancing self-esteem, listening and responding with empathy and asking for help and encouraging involvement. Sara Jane emphasized that, “I believe very much in setting goals and expectations, training people in what they need to know, coaching them when they need it and letting them do things their way when they are ready while providing them support and encouragement.”
As a certified coach for the Kevin Eikenberry Group, Sara Jane often facilitates its Remarkable Leadership course, which teaches 13 core competencies of leadership. She noted, “Leaders need to have strengths in some of these competencies and a minimum level of competency in each of them along with having no ‘fatal flaws’ in any of them.” Sara Jane also works with companies here in Mississippi and helps local organizations through Holmes Community College’s Workforce Training Programs. Sara Jane shared that her personal leadership style was heavily influenced by her father, who “had a strong work ethic yet felt it was important to take time out for the other side of life,” and her mother who was an “encouraging, caring and supporting leader.” She also credits her parents with her lifelong love of reading and learning. In fact, she shares with new leaders how important it is to be a continuous learner. I know that Sara Jane will continue to be making a positive impact on this state as she shares her passion for developing empowered leaders.
Martin Willoughby, a business lawyer in Jackson, is a regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. Willoughby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.