Advice to a New Leader

Joe Kujawa - September, 2021

Words of Wilson features a rotating panel of consultants from Bruce Wilson & Company, a landscape consulting firm.

Job openings are at record highs, yet many landscape businesses can’t fill positions and struggle to keep up with demand. In a “Help Wanted” market, maybe the solution is right under your nose. If you have a promote-from-within culture, you’re in luck. In fact, promoting from within not only benefits your business, but it’s a tangible way for your company to show employees you are willing to invest in them as emerging leaders.

The upside:

  • Promoting from within keeps employees engaged and aspirational
  • Career advancement opportunities keep employees motivated and less likely to leave for career advancement elsewhere
  • Internal mobility saves time and money on the external hiring process and there’s less risk involved
  • Internal candidates are better prepared and more likely to accept new responsibilities
  • There is a shorter learning curve
  • The ripple effect of watching colleagues grow within has a positive impact on morale

But because every upside has a downside, there are also challenges that come with internal promotions. Moving an individual out of the team into a position of leadership over former peers can cause stress and uneasiness for both the team and the one promoted.

I recently had a client ask me to talk with someone that had just been promoted above his peers to manager. He asked me if I had any advice for the guy, who would be overseeing his former colleagues. Here is some of what I shared:

People are human.

It’s normal that work friendships may change. Sitting at a lunch with the gang complaining about leadership is not an option anymore. You are now the person you used to complain about and that changes a lot of things, including what people expect from you, how people treat you and how they react to you. It will also change what people are willing to share with you (good and bad). Be sensitive, adapt your communication style, be open and honest. Expect that everyone may be awkward at first, but being transparent will go a long way to build trust and respect.

Change is hard.

Don’t try to change everything at once. Give your team time to adjust. Figure out your new rhythm, and be strategic and thoughtful about making structural or personnel changes. If you are too quick to reshuffle positions or terminate an employee, you risk making the rest of the team insecure about their positions.

Self-aware is good.

Ask for objective feedback on your performance as you start in your new role. This will also show your team that you are willing to take and act on constructive feedback. When a leader can do this, it helps set a positive example for the team that continuous improvement works for everyone.

With the current labor shortage, promoting from within may be a viable way to move forward, plus doing so can help team morale.

Before your promotion, you were probably closer or more friendly with some people than with others. As the leader, you need to make sure you aren’t playing favorites. If the team thinks you have a closer relationship with one person, even though you don’t think so, some members may feel slighted and ignored. Make sure you are treating everyone equally, especially as it relates to opportunity and information-sharing.

Rise to the challenge.

Think about how you have behaved in the past. What traits made people like you? As a leader, you may need to modify your behavior to be successful. Set boundaries, communicate, be fair and objective, act in the best interest of the whole and acknowledge the success of your team. The more you allow your team to shine, the more you shine. No one gets promoted in a vacuum. Acknowledge the co-workers who have been there for you on your journey to success.

Keep learning.

You got the promotion because you demonstrated that you were always willing to learn and try new things. The skills for being a good boss aren’t necessarily things you are born with, so keep learning. Find what works best for you and your team and don’t be afraid to adapt your style as needed.


Reprinted with permission. GIE Media. Lawn & Landscape Sept 2021 (c)

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