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7 Steps for Helping Talented Researchers become Strong Leaders

There's a blueprint for being a great researcher and processes to be followed to deliver a project successfully.

Whereas leadership, especially the modern definition, is much more fluid, expansive and full of paradoxes - quick wins vs. long-term vision, be humble vs. act with resolve, invite discussion vs. be decisive.

This is to be heralded, but comes with challenges that I am not sure research agencies are helping their growing talent address.

AD/D-level is a key break point as people struggle to both DO and LEAD.

And can we afford for this level to fall short?

By focusing on delivery over relationship building, on personal performance vs. collective brilliance, this cohort costs the business money.

And it negatively impacts the health of our ADS and Ds, who report high levels of burnout, especially post Covid (source MRS Understanding our Talent Shortages Report 2022)

But the transition from doing the research, to leading teams & building a revenue pipeline is not easy.

It asks researchers to do two things:

1. Dilute the very strengths that saw them gain promotion – independent working, accuracy & compliance. When over-played, these lead to perfectionism, micromanagement, overwork and burnout.

2. Dial up different qualities – empowering and enabling others, building relationships, trusting your own gut.

But what can we do?

Here are 7-steps senior agency leaders can take to set the next generation of leaders up for success:

1. SET THE EXPECTATION – the jump to AD and D is not incremental like the jump from RE to SRE and SRE to PD. The ask is fundamentally different and we need to make this explicit.

2. PROMOTE ON FUTURE POTENTIAL – we want to reward past performance, but when communicating the promotion, also highlight future potential, the leadership strengths you see in your talent and how that will help them build teams and client relationships.

3. CREATE DIFFERENT PATHWAYS – not everyone wants to lead or will be good at leading, create different progression routes for individual contributors and for those who might be great at leading processes, but not people.

4. LET THEM LEARN, PRACTICE, FAIL, RE-LEARN, REPEAT – easy learning does not build strong skills, bring in training that allows them to identify and then put into practice the new skills they need to develop.

5. SET UP SUPPORT NETWORKS –mentoring, advocates and peer group support are some of the ways people can feel inspired, challenged, encouraged and supported.

6. PROVIDE FEEDBACK – knowing how they are doing is vital, for confidence-building, for tackling unhelpful behaviour.

7. GET OUT OF THE WAY – an agency leader once said to me, “no one is ever prepared to give up their role”… and so ask yourself, who’s going to replace you, and what are you willing to give up to help them succeed?

If we want a profitable agency and happy people.

If we want courageous, innovative, empathetic leaders for our industry in the future, then we have to help them get there.

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