Philie Group Blog

Leading Through the Fog
By Mike Philie

It’s hard to get the work out on time, on budget, and to the quality standards your clients deserve every day. It becomes increasingly difficult with the changing dynamics of the workforce and client expectations. How would your departmental leaders do if they had to navigate their day to day with limited visibility regarding their key success factors, and the true expectations in leading their team? In most small- to medium-sized businesses, the best individual contributors are anointed to the role of supervisor or lead in their department. They typically get a small bump in their pay and the assurance that if they have any questions, just ask. I think they deserve better.

What Questions to Ask

When these star performers take on these new roles, they often don’t know what they don’t know. With that, they are not aware of the questions that they should be asking. In fact, they often take the same behavior that made them a great contributor and try to apply those to their new role – with varying levels of success. Help set them up for success by outlining the key areas to being a good department manager. Work with them to identify the key success factors for leading their department. Do an assessment of their current skills, and together, create a roadmap to help fill in their gaps. The goal is to give them a toolkit filled with the appropriate wrenches necessary to be successful in their new role. One of those skills is knowing the difference between doing and leading.

Doing vs. Leading

Doing the work as an individual is a lot different than leading a group to get the work done. The people skills, the organizational skills, and the ability to anticipate things that can go wrong, are all critical elements of transitioning from an individual contributor to a leader. Listening and coaching skills are additional areas to be developed. Face it, things won’t always go as planned and there will be times when that new leader will have to ask his team to do things that they currently are not doing. Whether that’s increasing productivity, increasing the quality levels, or minimizing the drama in the workforce, these crucial conversations will need to take place. Provide your new managers with the training necessary that will give them the confidence to take on these new challenges.

Now What

In an entrepreneurial led business, this training may not be an issue as the key executive is often involved in all facets of the business. There they stand, at the end of the parade with a broom and a shovel ready to pick up any pieces that have been strewn about the production room floor. As companies evolve and grow though, it becomes an issue as this management practice isn’t scalable enough to keep up the pace.

Based on your available resources, identify the training topics that will have the highest impact of their ability to lead. You can use a combination of internal and external resources to deliver that instruction. More importantly though, the new skills need to be reinforced and discussed during your one-on-ones. It will take more than just giving them the training and hope that they apply it. Let them know that this is important for the future development of your organization, for their own growth, and that you need their help in leading the business. Doing this will help minimize the fog.

I’ve said this in the past, your commitment to developing the next leaders within your organization will be hard. But the payback is that you’ll have a bench of qualified and motivated leaders to help run the business. If you have any comments or thoughts as to how you’ve approached these issues, please send me a note, or include them below.

Mike Philie can help validate what’s working and what may need to change in your business. Changing the trajectory of a business is difficult to do while simultaneously operating the core competencies. Mike provides strategy and insight to owners and CEOs in the Graphic Communications Industry by providing direct and realistic advice, not being afraid to voice the unpopular opinion and helping leaders navigate change through a common sense and practical approach. Learn more at www.philiegroup.comLinkedIn or email at

Originally published in Printing Impressions.


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