If your company is looking to grow revenue in 2018 (or if your not-for-profit organization seeks to expand its impact), your leadership team surely has a strategic plan in place. Hopefully that plan includes a talent-building component geared toward developing current and future leaders.
But even if you plan to implement a structured talent-development strategy, it doesn’t mean your managers and supervisors can’t strive for professional growth on their own. The goal of any committed manager—beyond leading an efficient and productive team, of course—should be to achieve leadership maturity, a state in which the manager navigates the different aspects of the role in a balanced, confident, and non-egotistical manner.
We all have a personal mix of strengths and weaknesses that make reaching this state a challenge. By taking a few moments to think about the 5 leadership recommendations below (and perhaps incorporating one or two into interactions with employees, peers, business partners, and customers), managers and supervisors can get a head-start on the talent-development effort:
Some managers take the “do it because I said so” approach because, frankly, it’s the fastest route from point A (the task) to point B (completion of the task). Managers who aren’t as assertive, on the other hand, often lean on policies and mandates and end up becoming mouthpieces for upper management. They make excuses instead of making things better.
Both approaches are short-sighted and a little bit lazy. The first focuses on the “now” at the expense of potential future gain. The second focuses on “never.”
By actively listening to what employees have to say (that is, listening to understand rather than listening to reply), a manager can get to the heart of what’s broken and take steps to fix it. Even if immediate change isn’t possible, a listening manager can serve as a conduit between individual contributors and upper management, and gain clarity around employee engagement and organizational climate. They might even discover that employees often have worthwhile ideas.
While it’s important to be supportive in terms of providing the tools employees need to be successful, it can be tempting for some managers to go beyond helpfulness and try too hard to be popular. However, a mature manager doesn’t look for personal validation from employees or peers, but from successful business results. When employees push back, complain, or challenge, it helps to remember that we all have our own motivations and hot buttons. Instead of thinking, this employee is my adversary, think, this issue has pushed the employee’s buttons, and I need to address it in a way that balances the needs of the employee with the needs of the department and the organization. Make it about them.
Some managers find themselves pushing people out of the way while declaring, “Forget it; it’s easier if I just do it myself.”
Now, it could be that you don’t have the right people on staff, and if so, that’s imperative for upper management to address. However, some supervisors who think this way are by nature overly controlling and oriented toward micromanagement. Maybe they got promoted to supervisor because they happened to be the best individual worker and deserved reward. The reality is that doing and leading are not the same skill set. Some might not be comfortable holding people accountable or adept at providing training. Perhaps no one told them that good management is getting the most out of others, not doing it all themselves.
Whatever the reason, it’s time to move forward. If employees don’t know how to do the work, train them. If they do, expand their responsibilities. Ask an experienced staffer to mentor a junior associate. If people think their work matters and they bring value, they will be more invested in the job.
Our brains aren’t generally wired for neutrality and objectivity. They are wired for snap judgment and affirmation of what we already believe. It’s a prehistoric thing.
When it comes to leadership decisions, whether they pertain to hiring or solving problems or improving processes or allocating capital, we make our best choices by packing away our biases and instead looking for consistent data patterns. Diversifying information sources and seeking input from others can also help broaden the scope of one’s thinking. Sometimes this requires quieting our own egos and embracing fresh ideas.
This doesn’t mean overanalyzing minutiae and gumming up the works. It means eliminating that which is unimportant and focusing on the key information that leads to optimal decision making.
If we don’t constantly seek new learning and fresh ideas, our imaginations stagnate. You see it with struggling companies still trying to sell to customers who don’t exist anymore, or they continue attempting to sell in ways that no longer resonate with buyers.
By keeping abreast of change and resisting an adversarial stance toward it, and by listening to an array of voices and perspectives, managers can gain a better understanding of stakeholder needs and become more effective at customizing responses to suit different audiences. One doesn’t have to agree with or adopt other viewpoints and experiences to recognize them as valid.
Sure, it can be difficult to think about self-developing these soft skills when departments are understaffed, business processes are inefficient, or you simply don’t have the people on board who can get the job done. But as a company’s strategic plan begins to correct shortcomings that are outside your immediate control, you can work toward integrating these tips and becoming the best leader you can be.
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