Leadership Caffeine™: How to Survive a Sudden Promotion Into Leadership

A Cup of Leadership CaffeineOne of the oddities of organizational life is the fairly frequent and sudden promotion of individuals from competent individual contributor to someone responsible for the work of others…supervisor or manager, without any visible sign of mentoring or support for the newly in-charge individual. Congratulations…go get ‘em Tiger.”

Without support, a likely outcome includes a loss of a great individual contributor and the fallout that comes from the introduction of a crappy (inexperienced) manager into a team environment. This problem is epidemic on sales and technical teams, however, no area of the business is immune.

In case you find yourself on the receiving end of one of these “Welcome to Management” roles where your boss and her boss are nowhere to be found and your team is deciding between supporting you or leaving your for road-kill, consider the following ideas.

6 Ideas to Help You Survive a Sudden Promotion into Your First Leadership Role:

1. Understand and Accept Your New Situation. Realistically, no one was hoping to be reporting to you. While you may have technical credibility, you don’t have management credibility and the fact that you are now a decision-maker for work allocation and  hire, promote, fire scenarios just pisses some people off. Oh, and lunch will never be the same. You’re the boss now…not one of the gang. Get over all of the above and get on with your new reality. You need to earn credibility by doing your job fairly and openly.

2. Work Hard to Become Sympatico with Your Boss’s Goals. Whether she is there to help coach or guide you through some of the rough spots of dealing with others, you have to understand what she is on the hook for…and by default what you and your team are accountable for. Push politely to understand your priorities and importantly, how you will be evaluated. Last and not least, share and reinforce these goals and metrics with your team early and often.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Developmental Support. Explore options for formal training with your boss and the HR department. While training doesn’t make the leader, it can only help anyone thrust into the world of needing to conduct performance discussions, run productive meetings and deal with group and individual issues. If you get some help here, make certain to be the world’s greatest participant. If you don’t have access to formal resources, recognize that you are immersed in a very challenging self-study course. The good news is that there are an incredible number of great resources available to help via blogs, podcasts and books…you just have to go find them.

4. Ask Your Team. Your team knows more about working together than you might give them credit for. They’ll resent you if you start telling them what to do. Resist your urge to tell, and instead, focus on asking for ideas and input. Then focus on letting people and groups run with their ideas. Put time and effort into knocking down obstacles and watch your credibility grow in real time!

5. Create Risk-Free Opportunities for the Boss to Coach. Most managers have less than a clear idea how to support their first-time leaders. Just because his proactive coaching skills are lacking, you can deftly turn the tables by asking the right questions. Approach the boss with scenarios and ideas and appeal to wisdom and experience in handling similar situations. Almost everyone appreciates an appeal to ego. Fair warning, avoid the following words: “What should I do?”  Those 4 words formed in a question are universally annoying to bosses. They want to hear your ideas.

6. Resist the Urge to Be a Lone Wolf. While the boss might not be engaged daily, she’s watching and judging. Give her ample opportunities to see what you and your team members are doing. You need to be an aggressive but not obnoxious self and team-promoter. Your boss and your team members will appreciate you for it as long as it’s handled properly.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

If you’re suddenly thrust into the turbulent seas of being responsible for the work of others without a visible lifeboat, recognize that it’s up to you to sink or swim. Too many first-timers flail and fail in this circumstance. Take a deep breath of humility and carefully and deliberately focus on helping those above and below.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:

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By | 2016-10-22T17:11:23+00:00 February 24th, 2013|Career, Leadership, Leadership Caffeine|6 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. […] A Sudden Promotion – what next? […]

  2. Mike Henry Sr. February 28, 2013 at 9:39 am - Reply

    Hey Art, great post. I think all of your suggestions are great suggestions. Additionally for me, my most successful middle management gigs have been when I’ve learned enough about both my boss’s goals and my team’s goals. To me middle management is the art of helping your team make your boss successful. Great ideas and reminders. Thanks! Mike…

  3. John Duba February 28, 2013 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Excellent advice! I’d add that as first time managers become more seasoned they should think about the promotion process when choosing new managers and provide the support for them they did not have coming up through the ranks. Once the cycle of “Welcome to Management” is altered to include proper preparation and support, new managers will progress more quickly and in turn pass on and/or provide the needed support and wisdom.

    John D.

  4. […] via Leadership Caffeine: How to Survive a Sudden Promotion Into Leadership | Management Excellence by Ar…. […]

  5. […] How to Survive a Sudden Promotion Into Leadership by Art Petty – “Create Risk-Free Opportunities for the Boss to Coach. Most managers have less than a clear idea how to support their first-time leaders. Just because his proactive coaching skills are lacking, you can deftly turn the tables by asking the right questions.” […]

  6. […] and will show your team that you trust them to do the work they know how to do. You are a manager, not a solo flier. You have people reporting to you because you aren’t meant to do everything yourself. Get buy-in […]

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