Onboarding: Needed for all Field Leader

Do you view onboarding as a necessary practice for first-time leaders of your teams, countries and areas?  If you are committed to the above perspective, that is a great beginning, but you are in a minority of mission leaders.  (If you are unfamiliar with onboarding, familiarize yourself with an introduction to the idea in the Feb. 15, 2012 post.)

The harsh reality is that most field leaders do not receive training or help regardless of whether they are first- time field leaders or promoted from another leadership capacity on the field.  Only 30% of field leaders, according to the results of the IMPACT study, received any kind of training or help in assuming their new roles (See Research section for more detailed reports).

You cannot assume that an excellent missionary is ready to be a front-line manager, e.g. team leader. You also dare not assume that a front-line manager (e.g. team leader) has the skills, attitudes and perspective to become a functional manager (e.g. country field or regional leader).

In this post we want to emphasize the need for careful onboarding for all field leaders, whether they are moving from one level to another or new to a field leadership role.  The strategic nature of mission leadership is so significant, complex, and fraught with long-reaching challenges that it demands very thoughtful and intentional planning and support.  Each new role represents a major personal and leadership transition.  Thus a move to each level requires transition help (See Post, March 8, 2012).

In How to Build a Leadership-Powered Company, Dr. Ram Charan identifies six levels of leadership and focuses on how each level requires unique perspectives and skills.  You can find his descriptions of the six levels in Chapter 1, “Six Leadership Passages,” which is reproduced in the following URL (http://www.ram-charan.com/leadership_pipeline_excerpt.htm).

With just a little time, you can use Dr. Charan’s six levels to develop a leadership pipeline for your own organization.  SEND International created such a design: http://sendu.wikispaces.com/file/view/Leadership+Pipeline+for+SEND.doc/187739863/Leadership%20Pipeline%20for%20SEND.doc).

If you create your own chart, you may well discover that the six levels do not exist in your organization.  The important task is to truthfully describe each leadership level for your organization.

From your work you will discover that moving into each level is a major transition.  Each move requires a major change in perspective, work and sense of personal identity.  Each move has an effect on both time and relationships.  Because of that reality, each change in leadership also affects the leader’s role as a spouse, parent, friend and donor recipient.

So we raise some questions:  Where do your new leaders gain an opportunity to learn and dialogue about their current leadership transitions?  Where do your leaders in transition receive support to examine values, develop skills and examine issues of personal identity?

If you have worked through a good onboarding process, your new field leaders will have access to answers for the above questions.  They will also have built-in opportunities to grow.  They will have time with their supervisor and peers to consider the new realities.  And they will receive feedback on their progress towards effective service as a field leader.

Now comes the tough, but exciting part: developing an onboarding process for each level of your field leadership (e.g. team, country, and area/region).  Just remember, onboarding is more than skill training or organizational orientation.  Onboarding is bringing practical assistance during a transition.  It is supporting leaders so they can come up to speed quickly.  It is a process from the time of appointment through the end of the first year in the role.

Now ask you questions and give you comments as you join the learning community.

One thought on “Onboarding: Needed for all Field Leader

  1. Ken Guenther

    Talent Management has recently published an article (http://bit.ly/IyGrEI) on helping leaders make smooth transitions. The author says that if a leader lacks self-awareness, a learning mindset or personal stress-management practices, the transition can be very slow and easily derailed. But the transition can also be derailed if the organization doesn’t provide the right support. Interestingly the author suggests that the most important support that an organization can give to a leader considering transition is to be transparent about the derailment risks. The leader has to take ownership of the transition process, and not to assume that it will be easy just because of previous success in the previous role.

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