Converting Managers to Leaders – What can be done in your organization?

In our last blog article “Are you working to transition your managers into leaders?” we talked about how, although both may have the similar title and be responsible for a similar team of people, there are very significant differences between a manager and leader in terms of their leadership style and results. These differences can have tremendous impact on organizational performance and profits.

Good leaders are not born – they are made.  Today we want to look at what steps organizations and senior leaders can take to convert managers into leaders – leaders who are people-centered in their daily activities and interactions with employees. If you already using various practices we are advocating in this blog, we encourage you to consider a bigger question as you read the recommendations that follow: how well is your organization doing these, and what can be done to improve your practices?   

Creating leaders really starts with selecting the type of individual you want to put into a leadership position.  When you are hiring for a leadership role, what qualities do you look for?  Just some qualities that organizations are looking for include: having a vision – seeing what’s possible, appreciating employee effort and contribution, commitment to helping employees develop (development is a key driver of engagement), seeking and cultivating input and diverse opinions (not looking for ideas that confirm the leader’s thinking), being principled – having a clear and consistent set of values, and humility.  Where on this list is strong communication skills (both listening and speaking), you wonder?  Well, communication might be the entry ticket.  If you asked good leaders what they do, they would put communicating at or near the top of their list!

Recruiting people with the right qualities is never enough, and has to be followed by education and learning. To successfully lead requires many different skills that are often not just simple and easy to acquire. In today’s complex, VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, leaders have to be learning constantly.  Resting on your laurels or feeling that you have “arrived” is risky.  Cultivating leadership skills and attributes involves having a wide range of experiences, exposure to other successful leaders, coaching, admitting mistakes, reading, training programs, and listening closely and carefully to your team (among other things). To summarize – to be a successful leader takes hard work, commitment, investment of time and capital and the right guidance and support!

How effectively is your organization applying each of the following elements that are important in the growth and development of every manager?

  1. Manager/leader hiring and selection: Organizations need to put a lot of thought and consideration in who they will put into a leadership role. Not everyone has the people skills to lead or the desire to learn and grow in order to develop the competencies required to motivate performance and build strong, trusting working relationships. Assessments are available to determine better qualified candidates and if their personality and motivation are suited to the job. 
  2. Leadership training and skill development helps managers understand the benefits of people-centered leadership, why it is important and how to cultivate willing and enthusiastic followers, and develop the necessary skills to do so. Beyond these ideas that are essential for today’s leaders, training supports the development of fundamental people and communication skills that enable stronger performance and relationships. To sustain the learning so effective practices can gradually integrate into how leaders interact, some other elements are important:  
  3. Coaching and role modeling: The wisdom and personalized attention provided by an experienced coach is invaluable for leaders in order to keep growing and maturing at any time but especially in their early years in a leadership role.  A coach provides a confidential and supportive setting for building strengths, discussing and resolving difficult challenges and discovering ways to guide the leader’s team to higher performance.  People are constantly taking clues for their own behavior from the way leaders behave so seeing your boss actually practising the positive behaviors he is asking of you acts as powerful guidance for your own actions.
  4. Support tools: Along with coaching, on the road to growing your managers into leaders, various tools can help managers integrate skills that improve employee performance and make work more rewarding. Many tools are commercially available or you can even create these at home by distilling effective practices that your leaders are already using. For example, consistently using a template to prepare for coaching conversations can gradually change the tone of the manager’s interactions with employees. Applying questions that have been shown to provoke thinking can help a manager encourage more ideas and solutions from team members.  Leading high-participation team meetings can be aided by frameworks for holding effective meetings.  Feedback assessments (360 or others) can support leadership growth and enhance transparency (if a leader asks for feedback and then uses it, that makes an impression on the team!)..
  5. Accountability: Showing continuing interest in managers’ development by asking them to report on their progress, successes and challenges as they develop into leaders demonstrates that this learning is very important.  It’s regular, day-to-day conversations with growing leaders about their progress that can keep them accountable for their own development, far beyond the occasional, more formal performance review. 
  6. Conversations with employees: Conversations are the lifeblood of any business. In order to get the elevated performance organizations need to succeed in today’s economy, managers have to not only drive performance but partner with employees in creating and sustaining an enriching work experience. Effective conversations can help managers build alignment with organization goals, successfully implement change initiatives and increase employee commitment and engagement.

Ultimately, the decision about which strategy or combination of strategies would be the best for your organization depends on a frank assessment of how willing your leaders are to grow and learn, budgets, the willingness of senior management to help managers develop as leaders and the culture you have or are trying to establish. Let’s end with the questions we asked earlier: What steps is your organization taking to grow leaders, and how effective are these steps?   We invite you to consider these questions seriously, involve the right people and levels in these discussions, and continually refine and improve your practices.  Given the leader’s huge influence on performance, these questions can mean the difference between average and stellar performance for your organization. 

If your organization could use support to help managers become leaders, we can help.  Contact us for further information. 

We look forward to hearing from you.  

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