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Adding the Missing Piece Can Turbo-Charge Your Leadership Development

By and

Wed May 08 2019


In an earlier post we explained why more managers are becoming “hands-on managers,” expected to continue doing significant amounts of work while also managing their team. We also pointed out that while they work alongside their direct reports, hands-on managers can be an employee’s best partner for workforce development . . . if properly trained to do so.

And there’s the catch: Properly training hands-on managers is the missing piece in many otherwise exemplary leadership development programs. Too often the leadership training that hands-on managers receive assumes they should always let go of the work they used to do and delegate. Instead of taking advantage of their on-the-job opportunities to develop their direct reports, these managers often feel overwhelmed and frustrated managing others and working.


A further, perhaps deeper, problem that comes with not properly training hands-on managers is that many of them are Millennials breaking into the management ranks. With the increasing pace of Baby Boomer retirements, a looming managerial gap needs to be filled by Millennials (who already make up nearly one half of the workforce and by 2030 are likely to account for three quarters of it).

Particularly worrying is the ATD research report Leadership Development for Millennials that surveyed 592 business and learning professionals and found that just under half of respondents believe that, “Millennials are moving into management positions in their companies before they are fully equipped to do so.”

Helping these Millennials become successful as hands-on managers is a great way to get them into an organization’s managerial pipeline. It’s also a great retention strategy given that Millennials are less likely to job-hop if they are given responsibilities they find meaningful. Becoming a successful hands-on manager is just that kind of opportunity.Two SolutionsMindful that customization is the order of the day, we’ve found two hands-on development strategies that can be woven into your current leadership development program.

Redesign Your Leadership Program to Focus on Hands-On ManagersA national solar energy company was growing fast and attracted numerous Millennials and Gen Z employees who had high expectations of having early opportunities to do significant work in their areas of interest. The senior executives wanted to develop a new leadership program built on the assumption that all employees would be developed from day one to become hands-on managers. They would apply their expert technical and functional skills alongside their direct reports and unleash the can-do spirit of their teams. This blended program was highly customized to include case studies, role plays, and other real-world exercises that reinforced the expectation that being a hands-on manager offered many opportunities to make a difference.

Add a Module or Redesign an Existing ModuleTwo clients we worked with—a major health insurance company and a multinational engineering services/construction management company—had established leadership development programs that were well-received, but their hands-on managers were inhibiting their team’s learning and performance by not letting go or by micromanaging when working alongside their team. Here’s how we helped them address this problem within their current leadership development programs:

  • Include a Separate Hands-On Manager Module. The health insurance company decided to send all their managers to their current leadership program and afterward send those designated as hands-on managers to a one-day can-do leader module designed to help them learn how to deploy situational doing strategies.

  • Modify a Current Program. The engineering services company decided to make selective modifications to their current project management program to include on-the-job-learning strategies to help their project managers increase their effectiveness while working alongside their team.

Add hands-on management to your leadership development program. If it’s done well, your employees will learn how to embrace their role instead of feeling overwhelmed; it will shift their thinking about workforce development to a mindset that says, “I can do work in ways that accelerate learning for my team members.” When this happens, your hands-on can-do leaders could very well become your best line-of-business partners for workforce development.

Want to participate in interactive sessions that will deepen your understanding of strategies you may use to fully integrate hands-on managers into your current leadership development program? Please join us at the ATD 2019 International Conference & Exposition for Hands-On Management: The Critical Missing Piece of Today’s Leadership Development.

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