Adding the Missing Piece Can Turbo-Charge Your Leadership Development

Wednesday, May 8, 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 Solutions

Mindful 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 Managers
A 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 Module
Two 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.

About the Author

Dr. Frank Satterthwaite is a professor of organizational leadership and a past director of the MBA program at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. Frank, who has contributed numerous blogs to ATD’s Community of Practice, is co-author of Becoming a Can-Do Leader: A Guide for the Busy Manager (ATD Press). He is also the senior author of The Career Portfolio Workbook: Using the Newest Tool in Your Job-Hunting Arsenal to Impress Employers and Land a Great Job (McGraw-Hill), a bestselling career book that was selected as an “Editor’s Choice” at the Wall Street Journal. In addition to his cover story for TD Magazine, “The Delegation Conundrum,” his articles have appeared in national magazines, including Esquire. He has appeared on nationally broadcast radio and TV programs in the United States and Canada, and is currently doing webcasts for ATD. Frank also has a management consulting practice in which he helps managers become Can-Do Leaders. He studied psychology at Princeton and received his Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Yale. Earlier in his career Frank was a member of the U.S. national men’s squash team. Frank and his architect wife, Martha Werenfels, live in Rhode Island and are proud parents of their two sons, Peter and Toby.

About the Author

Jamie Millard is the executive partner and co-founder of Lexington Leadership Partners, a consulting and leadership development firm. He has been actively involved across the globe in developing leaders for more than 25 years as a business leader, executive coach, customized training designer, training facilitator, keynote presenter, and leadership consultant. He formerly led the national organization change management practice at CSC Consulting. Prior to that he was a partner at Harbridge House, where he led the continuous improvement and project management customized training and consulting practices. Jamie holds a bachelor of science degree from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from the University of Rhode Island. He is a member of the Global Learning Resource Network with Duke Corporate Education, a professor at Hult International Business School, and an adjunct executive partner at Northeastern University.

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The many hours and resources spent. Damn. But yes, this is a wonderful article. Worked on it and actually tried to work a software around it. WOuld like to invite you to try out
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Interesting article, and something that many training departments need to work on. Small callout - you left out Gen X! We still exist, and are quietly trying to fill the Boomer retirement gap too, even though we're not as exciting to talk about as the Millennial generation. Gen X has struggled with developing, because we've usually had to do things for ourselves (latchkey kids!) Hands-on managerial development is relevant for the Globals entering the workforce now as well.
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