Onboarding + Skill Coaching = Success for Newly Promoted Leaders

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We are privileged to work with many leaders at CPI Twin Cities.  Our experience has taught us that implementing sound onboarding practices, along with coaching to address specific skill gaps, greatly reduces the possibility that newly promoted leaders will fail.  This is particularly important in high stakes placement situations.

Not long ago, I coached a young leader who had been promoted to Executive Director of a nonprofit organization.  The Board of Directors had vacillated regarding whether to bring in a more seasoned leader, or promote an existing employee who had organizational experience and significant potential.  I was contracted to provide both onboarding and developmental coaching for the new ED to facilitate entry into the new position and increase his capacity to successfully influence multiple stakeholders.  By focusing on two coaching objectives simultaneously, we were able to position him for long-term success in the role.

Onboarding Newly Promoted Leaders

Making a leadership transition is among life’s most difficult personal challenges, DDI concluded in a comprehensive study.  Organizational politics, increased ambiguity and uncertainty, and team dynamics (getting work done through others and engaging employees) are the primary reasons why [1]. 

Most organizations assume that onboarding is for new hires only.  As a result, they offer little assistance to promoted leaders during the first 100 days on the new job.  Applying onboarding best practices, however, creates a process by which the newly promoted leader can structure his/her time, forge relationships with new stakeholders, gather critical (including political) information, understand team roles and member aspirations, and identify the business needs that will inform his/her leadership platform.  The platform – complete with strategies, specific activities, and metrics – will become the model that the team can rally around. As such, companies can greatly benefit from offering an onboarding coach and structure to newly promoted leaders.

Ensuring Success through Dual Objective Coaching

Onboarding, however, may not be enough.  The statistics vary, but some authors say that up to 60% of new managers fail following promotion [2].  Most attribute this failure to a lack of critical leadership skills required in the advanced role. In our onboarding practice, we have also observed the difficult transition of leaders moving from the director to the vice president level.  Many newly promoted vice presidents struggle to let go of operational responsibilities that earned them recognition in the past. Many “homegrown” leaders have had limited exposure to strategic thinking and find new strategy development expectations daunting.  

In “The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build a Leadership-Powered Company” by Charan, Drotter and Noel, the authors described six leadership passages beginning with managing people for the first time and ending with managing an enterprise.  They assert that each passage requires a different way of thinking and leading, particularly in three primary areas: skill requirements, time applications, and work values. Because many managers work at the wrong level, holding on to the skills, time allocation and values of the previous role, they are vulnerable to failure in their new positions [3]. 

Coaching for newly promoted leaders that focuses both on successful onboarding and specific skill development can reduce this vulnerability.  Depending on experience and level of responsibility, we have found that coaching in the following areas helps to position these leaders for success:

  • Addressing strategic versus operational issues
  • Creating alignment between strategy, organizational structure, and work practices
  • Influencing other leaders across the enterprise
  • Developing a global mindset
  • Shaping organizational culture
  • Managing change
  • Building productive teams
  • Resolving team conflicts
  • Delegating effectively
  • Providing performance feedback and coaching underperformers


Minimizing Risk in High Stakes Situations

Let’s face it, there are certain promotion/placement decisions that make us nervous and may particularly merit the investment of an outside coach.  These situations might include but are not limited to the following:

  • Creation of a new role with potential disagreement about role expectations
  • Significant competition for the position by other internal managers
  • Multiple stakeholders – perhaps geographically dispersed
  • Transformational nature of the role – position requires significant change management
  • Heightened visibility of the role across the enterprise
  • Repeated position turnover


You can minimize the promoted leader’s risk of derailment under these high-risk circumstances and position him/her for success by using a coach skilled in both executive onboarding and leadership development.

About CPI Coaching Services

We have a robust coaching practice at CPI Twin Cities.  Participants select from a talented group of CPI coaches with different employment backgrounds, skills and credentials.  During coaching, insight is created through powerful questions and nonjudgmental feedback. We provide structure, strategies and support to empower learning and to enhance the effectiveness of our clients.

[1] Pease, M. and Wellins, R. (2007) Leaders in Transition: Stepping Up, Not Off. Developmental Dynamics International, Inc. (www.ddiworld.com)

[2] James Bird Guess International Success Academy. (2013 May 22). Why 60% of New Managers Fail. Retrieved from http://internationalsuccessacademy.com.

[3] Charan, Ram, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel. The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership-Powered Company. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001 

Clare Cavalier

Clare Cavalier

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