Today’s managers are expected to know what they are doing, assuming that success in a previous non-leadership role will lead to similar success in their new role as manager. Yet, a 2016 survey of 500 managers from Grovo showed that 44% felt unprepared for their management role. A whopping 87% wished they’d had more training before becoming a manager.
Staggering results like these suggest one or more of the following:
1) Organisations are not investing in leadership development for managers
2) Organisations do not realise that it is important to prepare managers for the transition
3) Organisations are offering the wrong type of preparation for new managers (In the Grovo survey, 99% of companies said they offer “management training”)
Whatever the reasons, my experience is that leadership development is often not a priority.
Traditional management isn’t enough
Much is made of the difference between a manager and a leader. A manager is generally regarded as having the responsibility for the inputs and outputs of a department or team towards achieving joint objectives. These days, traditional management is often regarded as somewhat old-school. There’s a need for inspirational leaders to create a holistic vision of the business for not just what must be achieved but also for how they should be accomplished.
However, genuine leaders seem to be in short-supply. The result of weak, confused and, in the worst case, absent leadership is very real and felt especially amongst younger employees. These younger employees – often referred to as Millennials – want to be inspired. They seek out great leadership and they want to benefit from it. They are quick to respond and vote with their feet when they become disappointed in this quest.
Leaders must be able and willing to look in the mirror on a daily basis. They must have an understanding of ‘self’, in addition to an understanding of their team and the business. They must be flexible, willing to adapt their style, listen and learn so that they truly understand what motivates and inspires their team. It is crucial that leaders ‘walk the talk’ at every opportunity.
Leadership in today’s business world
Today’s leaders must be proactive in addressing any mismatch in management styles and values. This is needed to avoid employees feeling marginalised and then becoming disengaged. It’s simply not enough to have a vision and values. Leaders must show daily evidence of this.
In addition, I think leaders must focus on enabling and empowering their staff. This allows staff to shine in their chosen careers and optimises the team to maximise their contribution, ownership and delivery. It’s not solely for the benefit of the business but also for the benefit of their personal success and development.
Leadership for me, is not about ticking ‘training’ boxes. Leadership is a state of mind. As per Simon Sinek’s book, it’s critical that leaders understand their ‘why’ and the ‘why’ of their business. It’s the purpose that’s important.
A leader who is clear in their ‘why’ and is humble enough to accept that they’re always learning, will be better-placed to succeed.
Therefore, organisations should consider these steps to leadership development:
Culture Continuity from Top to Bottom
Hiring the right people to ensure ‘cultural fit’ is just the first step. The organisation must establish a culture for the future, a culture that is attractive to the future workforce. This culture has to be more than a set of idealised values. It should be real and embodied within the organisation. It has to be a blue-print for the business’s practice, newly hired employees are quickly disenfranchised if the value-set is just a veneer.
As employees progress through the organisation and become the managers, they must continue to embody the values for which they were hired. When managers don’t walk-the-talk, the organisation’s values are in question. If the employee sees a disconnect between the entry point and the management team, their confidence in the value-set is in doubt. True leadership is about the embodiment of important and prized values, consistency and continuity.
Solicit Feedback from the Team
Genuinely seeking feedback from new and existing employees will highlight what is important to your workforce. You’ll discover what inspires and engages them. Particularly with a younger workforce (e.g. millennials, new graduates), it’s critical to be on board with how they function, what they hold dear and what is important to them at a fundamental level; this is how an organisation might keep its finger on the pulse.
However, listening isn’t enough. Leaders need to really hear and act on employee feedback. If employees recognise a willingness to embrace and resolve their concerns, they are more likely to regard the organisation as a genuine career opportunity and not just a stepping-stone until something better comes along.
Leaders need to have a willingness to learn, adopt and adapt.
Encourage Self-Awareness to Drive Better Leadership
In the work I’ve been doing with my clients, it’s been very insightful for managers to step into the shoes of their team members. With one manager, I used perceptual positioning. Using this technique, he learned about his team’s experience of him as a leader. These techniques provided him with clear insight into how he was perceived. It allowed him to understand how his communication, behaviour and style affected his team’s performance. This drives self-awareness.
Indeed, taking a step back, listening and understanding your team is an effective way to develop, not just an awareness of your team’s style and preferences but also an awareness of your own leadership behaviours. As a leader, you can also get a sense of your team’s habits at work and how you are perceived. To be a better leader, you must have a clear idea of who and how you are as a leader.
Understand the Neuroscience of Your Employees
There’s a great book by Daniel Cable called, “Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping People Love What They Do”. I’ve found it enlightening, as social psychologist and professor Daniel Cable provides an understanding of the minds of workers and how to restore their motivation and improve their engagement. He reveals that disengagement is an issue based on biology!
If leaders understood that workers crave exploration, experimentation and learning, they would be better placed to engage and motivate them. For instance, Dopamine, known as a feel-good chemical in the brain, actually drives motivation. Consider how good it feels to tick an item off our to-do lists, this is a dopamine hit and it propels us to make more progress and tick-off more items.
In simple terms, the more dopamine we get by getting stuff done, the more motivated we are to do more. Daniel Cable calls this the “seeking system”.
‘Experimentation’ is one of the things I have implemented with my clients. This has taken the form of encouraging ‘skunk’ or side projects, allowing employees to work on topics they are passionate about. Employees now have an opportunity to be innovative, creative or explore areas of personal interest within the working week. This affords the employee a significant dopamine ‘hit’, which results in increased motivation, engagement and enthusiasm, which becomes self-fulfilling and is infectious across the team.
Move Away from Appraisals to Continuous Feedback?
Companies like GE (now BHGE) moved away from staff appraisals to continuous feedback. A 2017 Financial Post article on GE’s move from traditional appraisals noted that removing traditional performance assessments improved employee and business performance.
Feedback from pilot groups with 30,000 GE employees revealed that managers and employees disliked the process and the outcomes. While this move from appraisals is still not commonplace, for leaders, it’s likely to require a new set of skills. It requires a commitment to change and a passion for personal development – for the team and the leaders themselves.
One of the benefits of scrapping traditional appraisals is that it doesn’t force people to conform to a particular way of working. It also offers flexibility for a fast-paced innovative work environment, removing the fear associated with experimentation and instead building a culture of trust and vulnerability.
Traditional appraisals may block that “seeking system” that Daniel Cable talks about in this book. This is because they limit work to a set of predetermined (and rewarded) objectives and don’t support experimentation. Yet, I suppose there has to be a structure around feedback and performance assessments. Most organisations take a mid-line approach: regular touchpoints both formal and informal, throughout the year with an appraisal at the end.
In essence, it is no longer sufficient to be a good manager in the business world. The working population wants to be inspired, engaged and be employed by a values-led organisation. Leaders must be prepared to accept that they will always be learning, always ready to adapt and they will need to embrace new ways of working. Ultimately, leaders need to be aware of their purpose and be prepared for and skilled in what it means to lead in the changing world of employee and performance management. This will be essential to achieve team engagement and sustainable business outcomes.
As an employee or as a manager of employees, I’d love to hear your views on leadership development and what is clearly missing or being done well in your experience.