New Research Study Sheds Light on Workplace Challenges Faced by New Directors

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ProjectNext Leadership reveals the step into a “director” role is bigger than most anticipate, and companies can do more to support this talent. 

In the majority of corporate enterprises, directors sit at the nexus of strategy and execution – a role that can have a tremendous impact on accelerating growth – or stymying it. New research from ProjectNext Leadership, involving both surveys and in-depth interviews with directors who have been in the role fewer than 18 months, reveals that the director is a significant step in the rise to corporate leadership – and one that is quite different from other organizational roles.

“This research was inspired by the struggles we kept seeing over and over again in our work with new directors, talented professionals who are just not as well supported in their professional development as those either above or below them,” said Molly Rosen, ProjectNext Leadership co-founder and co-CEO. “At its heart, our research sheds light on the tensions inherent in this role that is charged with ‘holding it all together’ and navigating the shifts, both in thought and approach, that come with new responsibilities and expectations – like leading not just their teams, but leading across their enterprises.”

The research takes a deep dive into the “director” role, which, regardless of the title used, refers to professionals who typically lack the defined responsibilities of a “front-line leader” and are instead experienced leaders, often on the path toward executive roles. As companies struggle to solve ever more complex, multidisciplinary problems and realign their workforces, whether to accommodate shifting strategies or resource constraints, director performance has a significant impact on progress – or lack thereof.

Nearly half of survey respondents identified “engaging others around the strategy” as the biggest stretch for them coming into the director role – both around clearly communicating the strategies developed by the leaders and around “filling in the blanks,” which involves creating strategies for their own teams and translating the company’s direction into more focused, local strategies to drive execution.

Beyond the communications challenges, the survey identifies critical aspects of delegating, team leadership – both vertically and across the enterprise, and time management as areas on which to concentrate professional development at the director level and suggests four key actions companies can take to invest in director performance.

“Directors are truly the linchpins between the workforce and executive leadership, and they are – more often than not – expected to level up their function and skill set with very little support toward that end,” said Jeff Rosenthal, co-CEO and co-founder of ProjectNext Leadership. “By not focusing on Directors, it may be a huge, missed opportunity to increase innovation, scale more quickly, and help ensure a thriving workforce.”   

For all the insights, download: “The Critical Link: Lessons Learned from New Directors.”