I’ll always remember when my friend Sofia called me one Sunday evening to tell me she’d been promoted into her very first leadership role. Because it had been a quick, internal promotion, she was starting the new assignment the following day. As her "leadership-development expert" friend, she asked me to share everything I knew about being a great manager… in 30 minutes. I offered as much advice and insight as I could, but any new leader needs more than a few minutes to make the biggest leap of their career.
This situation is all too common. There are a lot of Sofias out there—first time leaders who are excited but overwhelmed by their new responsibilities because they’ve been thrown into the new role with little more than a “Congratulations.”
Why More Support Is NeededResearch reported in the Harvard Business Review shows that on average, managers take on a leadership role at age 30, but they don’t receive leadership training until they’re age 42. That’s a 12-year gap. And as a results-driven person, I can’t help wondering how organizations can put themselves at such risk?
In fact, the first-level leader is more critical than ever to achieve the business results. Here are a few reasons why:
- First-level leaders are responsible for the majority of the workforce. Consequently, they have a significant influence on the quantity and quality of the work their teams produce. This includes the entire customer experience.
- First-level leaders impact not only the engagement, but also the loyalty of their teams. Most employees quit because of problems with their manager.
- First-level leaders influence the culture throughout an organization. In the same company, one team might be engaged and energetic, while a team across the hall might seem defeated and frustrated.
- First-level leaders are often working closest to the opportunities for process and product innovation
Current Manager Development PracticesSo, I’m imagining that most of you reading this post are nodding in agreement. Chances are you are as passionate about leadership development as I am. You believe, as I do, that everyone deserves a great manager. However, I see a few trends in leadership development that are creating obstacles.
The first is a modern “wild west approach” to manager development. There are so many ways to access learning today that organizations just leave it to their employees to pick and choose what they believe is the best option for them. Some might make great choices; others will completely fail. The fact is that many organizations don’t really know whether their employees are learning to become better leaders.
Another approach is the “rocket science approach.” In this instance, organizations tend to make learning so complicated and scientific that the amount of time spent on design plus the learning hours outweigh the actual results.
A Better WayI recommend taking a “back to basics” approach to leadership development. Once this foundation is set, leaders can choose to build skills in various ways.
When I work with leaders, I often ask them:
- What they enjoy the most about their leadership role?
- What they find most challenging?
A very common response is that they 1) love to help their teams to grow and develop, and 2) how frustrating it is for them when their team members don’t have the same level of engagement for tasks as they do. This is understandable, as many new leaders loved the job they had before they were promoted. Their engagement was high, which was a main reason for their promotion into the leadership ranks in the first place. But in their new role, they realize that not everyone on their team is as engaged.
Suddenly it’s not enough to be engaged. As a manager, you need to help others become engaged as well. And while we might talk a lot about engagement—why it matters and what it looks like—we tend to forget to share how to create it. That’s where the simple, basic structure is useful because it focuses on tools, not theories.
Case in PointLet me give you an example. You’re a newly promoted unit manager and it’s time for your first one-on-one meetings with your team members. Sounds easy enough, right? But the fact is, most managers, even those who are seasoned, use their one-on-ones as a status check, as a way to monitor progress. Before you throw yourself into these meetings, consider why you are really having them. This weekly meeting is your chance as the leader to help raise the engagement of your team members. And as L&D professionals, we know too well what happens to the results of our business when engagement goes up (or down).
In a busy world with lots of conflicting priorities, this is your chance as a leader to tune into your team members—to really listen, understand, and make a difference. I know from having listened to both managers and team members across the globe, that this is not the way most one-on-ones happen, though. Often, managers throw themselves into meeting after meeting, trying to use the first few minutes to remember what they spoke about during the last meeting.
I’ve been guilty of this myself. Once during an extremely hectic period in my work and private life, I took pride in keeping all my one-on-one meetings in the calendar. But toward the end of that “season of unbalance,” I asked my team members for feedback on our meetings the previous quarter. They graciously told me that I seemed preoccupied and that my mind was elsewhere. I was embarrassed that my lack of attention had been so transparent! But that wasn’t the real issue. I didn’t need to learn better techniques to hide my preoccupation; I needed a strategy to stay focused and give my team members the attention they deserved. It will not be the most natural mindset for a new leader to take on. It takes skill to conduct an effective one-on-ones. It may seem basic. But for many new managers, it’s probably not.
Tools You Can UseSo, let’s not underestimate the power of the basic—but critical—practices that help managers be the great leaders their team members deserve. Below are my six critical practices for leading a team, which are basic to becoming the great manager that everyone deserves:
1. Develop a Leader’s Mindset: Leaders learn the critical mindset shifts from those of an individual contributor to those of a leader.
2. Hold Regular One-on-Ones: By conducting these essential meetings effectively, leaders increase engagement of team members, better understand team issues, and help team members to solve problems to succeed.
3. Set Up Your Team to Get Results: Leaders learn to create clarity about team goals and results, and they delegate responsibility to team members, while providing the right level of support.
4. Create a Culture of Feedback: Both giving and receiving consistent, genuine feedback builds confidence and competence, and increases the performance of a leader and a team.
5. Lead Your Team Through Change: Leaders can take specific actions to help team members navigate and accelerate through change and achieve better performance.
6. Manage Your Time and Energy: The best leaders use weekly planning to focus on the most important priorities and to strengthen their ability to be an effective leader by applying Five Energy Drivers.
For more insight, check out Everyone Deserves a Great Manager.