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The Bottom Line on Improperly Trained Leaders

There will always be natural leaders—those who have been brought up in a leadership environment and have leadership in their blood. But the vast majority of new leaders are not born. Companies must develop effective leaders. Unfortunately, many companies are thrusting unprepared managers, let alone new employees, into positions of authority, resulting in tremendous costs to company profits.

Indeed, a major reason for poor leaders is poor management training, to begin with.

Costs of Poor People-Management

In 2004, the Future Foundation conducted a global research project to determine the quantifiable costs of poor people-management in the workplace. The study surveyed more than 700 executives in seven locations: the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United States, Hong Kong, India and Australia.

The results showed overwhelmingly that poor people-management is draining corporate profits. The study also found that the U.S. is devoting $105 billion a year to correcting problems associated with poor hiring and poor people-management practices, a figure that constitutes 1.05% of the total U.S. GDP.

Poor management is clearly one of the worst hidden costs facing U.S. companies. Managers who assume positions without basic management and leadership skills create many negative consequences, including high employee turnover costs, low employee morale and loyalty, and reduced customer satisfaction.

Essential Leadership Skills

Let’s look at the skills, abilities and knowledge that managers need to possess to be successful leaders. Companies must work with managers to cultivate the following essential competencies:

Know Key Responsibilities. Because organizations constantly shift strategies, it’s easy for managers to lose sight of their primary focus. The result is that many new managers don’t have sufficient clarity about their priorities. Some managers are not sure where they are expected to focus—are they to be innovative thinkers for the company, or are they to provide support for their teams?

Managers are really network builders who need to learn how to set the agenda and direction for a team to reach company goals—in other words, to evolve into leaders. It’s a major shift, which is why being open to learning and getting support is crucial.

Delegate Effectively. Managers must learn that they are not responsible for “doing work” but for seeing that the “work gets done right.” Managers who take on everything tend to end up isolated, and this makes them feel insecure and ultimately ineffective.

Delegation skill building must include training new managers on how to transfer knowledge and skills to staff and avoid the temptation to do the work themselves.

Effective delegation involves assigning tasks that match employee strengths and skill sets. It is not effective to delegate a detail-oriented assignment such as creating a financial spreadsheet to someone not predisposed to do the job properly, or assigning a highly introverted person to deliver a presentation to new employees.

Respect the Individual. To become leaders, managers must learn to oversee work in an environment where everybody does not work in the same way. This means respecting individual work styles among staff members and facilitating collaboration among team members.

In its recent report, Futurework: Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century, the U.S. Department of Labor writes about the changing workforce:

"By 2050, the U.S. population is expected to increase by 50 percent and minority groups will make up nearly half of the population. Immigration will account for almost two-thirds of the nation's population growth. The population of older Americans is expected to more than double. One-quarter of all Americans will be of Hispanic origin. Almost one in ten Americans will be of Asian or Pacific Islander descent. And more women and more people with disabilities will be on the job."

Clearly, any organization that wants to be successful in today's world must recognize and use diversity to its advantage. It follows that managers must be trained to lead diverse teams and demonstrate respect for individual members. Today´s workplace is made up of many employees offering a diverse set of backgrounds and experiences and diverse ways to get a job done, including:
  • Problem solvers and confident decision makers
  • People who get the job done through their personal influence
  • Those who need structure and clearly defined tasks
  • Highly analytical employees who prefer to work with data, rather than with people.

A manager—especially a new one—should be both trained and encouraged to get to know employees, including what they value, what their strengths are and what motivates them. From here, managers should create individual plans that support each employee, as a leader should do.

Managers must become adept at functional diversity, which goes beyond the individual and looks at how a group of individuals function together. Part of the process of building respect involves understanding what each function does, and how that work contributes to the organization as a whole.

See the Big Picture. Managers must see the ultimate objectives of their position clearly as they manage others. Effective managers understand how their role contributes to implementing strategic company goals. If the goals are not clear, they must be comfortable enough to seek clarity from senior management.

Some managers narrow their horizons, simply focusing on their specific teams. This comes at the cost of failing to see and meet company goals. When managers are focused on their own narrow view and fail to see outside their departments, they are not serving as leaders.

Accept Shortcomings. Effective managers must learn how to lead despite the fact that they do not have all the answers. This is a true sign of all effective leaders.

So how do you help managers achieve success in these areas and become the leaders that you want in your organization?

Training is one way to develop a new manager’s competencies in skills, but the problem there is that training by itself often doesn’t stick. Studies show that most people who attend a training program tend to forget 95 percent of what they learn within a few days. In order for training to be effective, there must be a systematic follow-up to ensure that a manager is practicing the competencies and skills he or she may have lacked.

One way to ensure follow-up is to assign a manager a coach or mentor. Many companies hire external consultants to work with their managers—skilled professionals who have had training in developing managerial staff. A recent study of Fortune 500 companies indicates that companies are also creating internal coaching departments that work independently of all other business units, providing a sense of objectivity and privacy to enable new managers to develop their growth needs in a safe learning environment.

Once a manager has been on the job for a period of time—typically about six to nine months—a company can also make use of 360-degree feedback tools where the manager receives input from direct reports, peers and superiors—roughly anyone in the company who has worked with the manager during his or her initial tenure. The manager also evaluates himself or herself to get a complete portrait as to how he or she is performing on the job.

After receiving the feedback, the manager then has a clear idea about which skills and competencies to focus on.

Summing Up

The bottom line is that companies that want to build successful leaders must begin at the beginning by investing in their new managers. A failure to do so means that most companies will continue to see a diminished return on investment year after year as more unqualified professionals take on leadership roles.