"Understanding The Middle Manager: Convert Their Plight to Power" originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Middle managers are essentially the “hub” of everything your organization seeks to accomplish. It is the middle manager who must take the broad strategic initiatives handed down from the C-suite and execute these plans in real life. It is also the job of the middle manager to inform, interact with and inspire the employees in the departments under them. In other words, they’re handed the mission-critical task of keeping your workforce engaged.
This is a tremendous amount of potential for any organization and can drive positive or negative results. Often unrecognized for yielding such potential, mid-level managers face several challenges:
We see it in just about every industry: a graphic designer becomes an art director, a land surveyor becomes a project manager, an architect becomes a partner. In their entry role, they do a standout job and are quickly promoted up the ranks, eventually finding themselves in management roles where they are expected to delegate work, communicate across teams, bring in business, and coach and mentor others. They act as a bridge between top-level management and first-line employees.
Yet, they have no training or support on how to manage and lead others. They have their own portfolio of work to do in addition to managing people, managing budgets, planning and preparing for organizational performance. And, they are tasked with the very big job of moving organizational strategies forward, often without the tools or authority to do it.
According to Deloitte, “56% of surveyed executives report their companies are not ready to meet leadership needs.”
Companies that recognize the potential of high-performing individuals will try to service the needs of this mid-level by investing in “leadership training." However, not all leadership training is created equal, nor do all leadership programs provide results. Too often, we see organizations and teams invest merely to check a box versus making an investment in an employee that will result in a significant difference — for the individual and the organization.
For example, many leadership training programs consist of three to five days of formal training (or a series of online webinars). In this scenario, participants face a fire hose of information, then return to work with the expectation that they will implement the tools, skills and concepts. The company or department has checked the box on development training, but is the manager suddenly a leader? Are they more effective? Generally, the individual returns to their day-to-day charged up and ready to make a change, but when faced with their ever-growing list of to-dos, they are quickly absorbed back into the status quo.
Real learning cannot be one-size-fits-all. It requires time for personal planning, 1:1 coaching, skill building, feedback, application and accountability. Otherwise, the application of what is learned doesn’t materialize in the real-world environment.
Leadership development must be undertaken in the form of a journey rather than a quick-fix training approach. Longer term, integrated learning solutions may seem like a bigger investment in time and resources, but more time spent up front will accelerate learning and drive results. Integrated leadership development includes:
And, just as CEOs and executives find benefit in belonging to peer cohorts and forums, managers who participate in cohort-based learning solutions benefit from trusted peer relationships, collaborative problem-solving and being held accountable for making progress. Additionally, this type of longer-term, integrated development can be measurable; not only showing participants how they are growing and changing but showing companies how their investment is making a difference.
My company has been developing leaders through an integrated methodology since 2002, and we track the changes in leadership confidence and competence across a spectrum of 20 key indicators at three points in time throughout the development journey. Participants self-report on these measures of confidence and competence, and we can measure change from the start to finish of the leadership journey. The results are significant and range from 15% to 70% positive change on key indicators.
High-quality leadership development programs are powerful, not only because they create better leaders, but they improve company culture and performance of individuals and teams. Employees have more clarity and feel empowered and confident. And the C-level executives sponsoring their people during the leadership journey report major increases in innovation, better problem-solving, more effective leadership and closed gaps in succession.
POST WRITTEN BY
Founder of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration and Member of the Forbes Coaches Council
Lynda Silsbee is Founder and President of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration. She has spent more than 30 years creating and leading high performance teams. Along with the other LEAP Certified Coaches, she reports that helping managers make the LEAP to leader is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her work.