You wouldn’t take a person who’s never been on skis before to the top of a mountain and expect them to make their way to the bottom without hurting themselves. Yet we set up new leaders to do exactly this — most organizations default to a “sink or swim” approach, resulting in 60% of new managers failing in their first two years on the job.
The realization of how ridiculous this is inspired me to focus on new managers in my coaching practice and develop the APS Method.
When I first began my journey to studying leadership, I did fairly typical leadership coaching, with an effective combination of inquiry-based coaching and advising. But I began to notice the industry’s shortcomings as time went on. When I realized that what new managers lack goes beyond coaching or one-off new manager training — and that we’re missing an effective training program for those who are new to leadership — it became part of my mission to raise awareness about this problem and commit myself to solve it.
What has emerged as a result of this is the APS Method of leadership development. Curious yet? Let’s get into what this process actually involves and how you can use it.
The APS Framework
Most new manager training programs out there focus on the specific skills and practices involved in managing a team — for instance, giving feedback, holding people accountable, or coaching people in your team. While I acknowledge the importance of these things, you’re only going to go so far if you haven’t already developed a few baseline capabilities.
And this is why the first step in the APS Method is Awareness.
A leader needs a solid understanding of how they operate before they stand a chance at improving their leadership skills.
Only after knowing this can you begin to consider how your behaviors and actions influence the actions of others. When you know what kind of leader you are, you can figure out what makes your team tick and how you can get the best out of them to achieve the outcomes you want.
This isn’t just me theorizing — one study found that executives with a high self-awareness score were more successful overall. Plus, awareness doesn’t just improve individual effectiveness but also corporate and financial performance. Yet despite the evidence (and the fact that this should really be common sense), the vast majority of new manager training programs ignore the development of self-awareness and prioritize other factors instead.
If you’re working with me, you can rest assured that it will be near the top of the bill. I’ll encourage you to get to know yourself better than you likely ever have before, including:
- Your natural leadership style
- Your personal work preferences
- Your strengths (and your overdone strengths, aka blindspots)
- How you react to conflict
- The emotions driving your decisions
- The beliefs you hold about leadership and other people
And once that’s out the way, it will open the door to you reflecting on how all of this impacts your interactions with the people you’re trying to lead. And this level of awareness will be the catalyst to undergoing massive growth and reaching a new level of leadership.
I mentioned above that your beliefs are one of the aspects you need to be aware of to blossom into a great leader. Well, they actually hold far more significance than just a part of the self-awareness puzzle.
The things we believe have a huge impact on the way we lead, especially the decisions we make and the things we prioritize. You can think of them as the fuel you need in your car to reach a destination like good listening skills or problem-solving skills. What’s “driving” you to do what you do?
Examples of core principles great leaders live by include:
- I act with integrity and follow through on all my promises
- I always assume positive intent first
- I put people before productivity
- I don’t blame others; I always look for ways to take responsibility
Your core leadership principles shouldn’t be up for debate every time you have to make a decision.
And if you’re in any doubt about whether leadership principles matter, you only need to read just about any book written by a leader — discussions about principles make up a huge portion of the content. For instance, one of Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people is the importance of developing a personal mission statement, and Ray Dalio’s book Principles is all about — you guessed it — principles.
If your leadership approach lacks a clear structure or routine, you’re asking for trouble — even if you’re convinced that you don’t need these things to be effective, the rest of your team might not feel the same. Inconsistency tends to confuse team members and make it hard for new managers to develop confidence.
This is why the third and final component of the APS framework is systems.
What would happen if you wanted to take on a new team or change something fundamental about how you work (e.g., a transition remote working)? If your answer is “total chaos,” then this is something you need to pay attention to urgently.
Track your routines and practices, such as the frequency and structure of your one-on-one meetings. I also recommend paying attention to how you lead team meetings, give feedback and praise, manage performance, resolve conflict, plan and prioritize work, and coach.
When you’ve got your leadership system dialed in, it will finally feel like a well-oiled machine. Plus, once you’ve developed your system, you can take with you to any future roles and have something to leave behind so that anyone taking on your previous position can understand your approach (and adapt it if they wish).
Notice how that’s the last component of the APS framework and I’ve not even touched on competencies? That’s because I just don’t think they’re actionable unless you can apply them to a specific context and understand the skills you need to develop. Contrary to popular belief, the endless lists of leadership competencies don’t exist in isolation — they’re only as good as the aspects of the APS method allow them to be.
Become a Successful Leader out of the Gate
If you feel you were thrown in the cold water or that you’re a first-time skier standing on the top of a steep hill, then hang on in there. You can’t expect to become a good leader solely through intuition or learning as you go — the fastest way to improve your leadership and increase your impact and income is by intentionally developing your awareness, principles, and a system first.
Because in a world where you as a new leader aren’t given proper leadership training, it not only makes you less effective, more doubtful, and likely overworked, it also creates unnecessary stress and uncertainty for everyone you work with and even the customers you serve.
Now it’s your turn. Invest time and effort in developing your awareness, defining your principles, and creating a solid leadership system. If you’re interested in learning more about the APS Method and how I help my clients succeed as new managers, then check out my free training.