Need Leaders for Managers? This Is What You Should Do

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Managing is considered a prequel to leadership. It is believed that the best manager will be a good leader.

The reason is that both managing people and leading are two sides of the coin named “soft skills”. Managerial and leadership responsibilities overlap.

Does this mean every manager is a good leader or has leadership qualities? Perhaps not.

While the roles appear converging, there is a difference. Managing is more about driving team performance, ensuring quality, collaboration and coordination for day-to-day activities, and overall supervision. Leadership is about providing direction. It is about inspiring people, motivating them to expand their horizon.

A manager must traverse the road to leadership.

How will leadership development help?

Given the complex work environment today, with a multigenerational workforce and strong socio-economic dynamics, every manager needs to bring out the best from their people. In other words, think and behave like leaders.

According to an article by Forbes in 2020, many times, an individual reaches a managerial position through promotion based on performance along various parameters, including some basic people management abilities and skills. Proper training in leadership development is absent. The person works from accumulated knowledge largely derived from observing their own managers.

One drawback is that this approach could be outdated. Even more important, what if their managers themselves were a product of chance rather than skill or understanding?

And thus passes the baton.

Lacking knowledge of modern leadership techniques and practices, the managers perform poorly on all counts. Team-building and inclusive work environment could take a direct hit.

Why is leadership-building difficult?

The scope and complexity change drastically when thinking like a leader. You need to go from being a generalist to a specialist, from tactics to strategies, from staying under the wings to moving out into the spotlight.

Embracing the transition is not easy. Managers need to acquire new capabilities if they are to be prepared for future leadership roles.

You need to develop them into leaders.

Daring to take on the new challenge? What must you do as a leader?

Assessment drives learning. Start with the phase prior to promoting to managerial responsibilities. While creating KRAs for the senior yet below manager ranks, factor in parameters to assess managerial abilities. These could include integrative thinking, problem-solving capabilities, people skills and other soft skills.

The aim is to make KRAs relevant to adjudge the potential. Incorporating these even in smaller proportions will give an idea about the individual. Most importantly, it will prompt the person to think along these lines.

Take feedback from peers. This should be discreet to not give either side an idea about what’s developing-you don’t want the beans to be spilled before the promotion. Peer-level colleagues usually give honest feedback as they have nothing to fear in terms of adverse outcome (which could be the case in a reporting manager-reportee dynamic).

Put the prospective managers through assessments. Several psychometric tests and assessments give a fair visibility into a person’s thinking process. Using these, you can get an idea of where the individual stands and what their approach is likely to be.

On this basis, you can decide how far the individual is fit for promotion to the role of manager.

A sound structure needs a firm foundation. Invest in leadership and talent building learning and development programs. Upskill and reskill your line managers for leadership capabilities.

In discussion with HR leadership, devise relevant modules for training and invest in upgrading their knowledge and skills for more specific roles.

Forward-looking organizations also employ innovative leadership development solutions and techniques. Immersive simulation is one of these. You could try it out, too. Immersive learning entails using VR and AR tools and techniques to create scenarios that will push the individuals to think differently. These solutions are apt for upskilling and creating leadership values and perspectives.

You can also hire the services of talent acquisition solution providers with specialization in coaching and mentoring, and workforce transformation. Seasoned experts can help you achieve a lot more in upskilling/reskilling. Executive talent search firms and recruitment service providers offer sound advice, strategies, and customized solutions. Leveraging their bespoke services and incisive insights, you can develop high potential members for specific roles.

Leadership development has multiple facets. One of these is self-awareness. Make the resources necessary for self-development. This would include, besides coaching and mentoring, access to relevant reading materials, training courses, conferences, seminars or certifications. Encourage managers to identify courses that could help in leadership development and sponsor these. Support them with the framework wherein they can take time out to complete such courses. Instruct their direct reporting managers to cooperate and facilitate the learning.

Managers (or any employee for that matter) look up to their immediate bosses. They may have their mentors, too. Encourage them to solicit their advice and suggestions on leadership skills. Facilitate discussions between peer groups or with their seniors for the exchange of ideas.

Train managers and help them think 360 degrees—not solely focused on their own growth. Put them through situations and see how they fare in determining the growth and development of their own team members.

Include the managers in preparing the KRAs of their reportees, help them with drawing the career path. Assign tasks and projects, and observe how they allocate work among team members. Step in only when required. Encourage them to challenge their teams and see how they prioritize the team’s development.

Guide them to take a broader view of performance beyond a quantitative approach. Help them integrate modern practices such as the DEI perspective. Train them to work towards building an inclusive team – what steps must they take, etc.

Legacy of healthy habits—a role model. Create one. You are the leader.

Nothing serves the purpose better than frequent conversations, both formal and informal. Use these meetings or discussions to disseminate your perspectives and ideas. Let the line managers hear you and imbibe.

Encourage them to delegate responsibility. Conduct trust-building exercises. Managers, especially new managers, may find it difficult to trust their juniors. Overtly focused on productivity and on-time delivery, they may either micromanage or concentrate most responsibilities on themselves. Talk them out of this thinking. Ask them to delegate and see how juniors fare.

A good way is to cite their own examples. If their seniors had not entrusted them with tasks, they wouldn’t have made it to the managerial rank!

Encourage them to get into discussions with their teams. Conversations help in transparency.

Lead by example. Managers will copy what they observe. If they have the right example, they will mimic it. This can swing either ways, whether you are inclusive and compassionate in your approach, or when you focus only on productivity. Be careful of the track you leave.

Some other examples include being hands-on with the team, getting actively involved with execution, being fair-minded, eliminating hierarchy, being accessible, coaching and mentoring members as needed, passing on credits to the team in success and taking the blame for failures, following an inclusive approach, facilitating the development of team members, promoting team-building, etc.

Your work ethics, relationship-building skills, everything will pass down the line.

Interact with your managers frequently and ask them to do the same. During the meetings, seek questions. Listen. Observe. It will help you understand distinct personalities. Also, show your vulnerable side by discussing some of your concerns at the leadership level and how you tackle these. Brainstorm new ideas, visualize tough situations and ideate on probable solutions.

Managers will repeat this behavior with their teams. They will use the same coaching and mentoring parameters. Since leadership development is also about guiding, you would have done your job.

Build the bridge from confusion to clarity. Communicate.

Holding frequent meetings and discussions is one aspect. Regular interactions are effective in knowing each other for the free flow of ideas and information. This helps in breaking the barriers of hierarchy.

Keep them informed on what’s happening in the organization. Share, with discretion, the plans for future. If meetings are not possible always, nothing stops you from emailing. Concise emails with a clear message are received well.

Meetings or informal discussions are also platforms where you learn a lot by observing—this is the other aspect. Watch and listen. Get a window into their minds. Break down the insights to draw actionable plans.

Ask for questions. Seek feedback. Implement changes based on that.

Every once in a while, morale sags. Frequent interactions will help you discern that. And when it happens, you can talk your managers out of it. Restore their confidence.

Since leadership hinges significantly on being an effective communicator, this will prompt your managers to emulate this behavior with their teams.

People don’t always work for money. Are you treating your managers well? Do you recognize their efforts?

Recognizing and valuing contribution are like an elixir for employee engagement, at any level. A June 2022 survey on the significance of employee recognition, conducted jointly by Gallup and Workhuman (a multinational providing could-based human capital management software solutions), throws up interesting stats.

The report Unleashing the Human Element at Work: Transforming Workplaces Through Recognition shows that recognition is key to employee growth, development, and engagement. Employees that feel valued and thrive at the workplace are less likely to leave. Feeling connected to the workplace culture increases overall engagement and connectivity with the organization. Recognition through engagement and retention can yield cost savings of close to $7 million.

The same applies to managers.

Managing is not an easy job. The manager is the face of change — pleasant or unpleasant. People will more often than not turn their ire against the individual if they are disgruntled.

A leader who understands and relates to this quandary strikes the right chord with their managers.

You could recognize them for their performance, ideation, management, or problem-solving skill, or any other facet of their contribution.

When they see you engage intently, they will repeat it with their reportees. On-time and genuine recognitions eliminate discord. It shows employees that their managers or leaders care about them.

Valuing contribution is a key attribute of effective leadership.

To conclude

The road from manager to leader is tricky, while visibly natural. Tricky because it is transformational. It involves an overhauling of approach and behavior. You need to think big, rise above yourself, develop a broader vision — you need to give direction.

Most of us are comfortable in taking and critiquing directions, not giving it. It requires strength and vision. It requires the gumption to accept and be prepared for the brickbats.

Clearly, the journey is not easy. Not all managers grow into successful leaders.

Training and other physical materials or resources help in the transition, but that is just one side of the story. The real push comes from having the right role model to observe and follow—leaders who encourage their managers to carve a niche for themselves.

Leaders, therefore, have a significant role to play in developing leadership qualities among managers. Following the right approach, they can infuse the same passion they work with. It is their contagious presence that counts—the ability to pass on the same level of energy.

When your managers think like leaders, it will take the company’s bottom line and overall work culture notches higher. Leadership is not just about developing and driving the company’s vision. It is as much about making it a shared vision.

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