The following is an excerpt from Lead With Purpose: Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself, by John Baldoni.
When purpose is clear, it provides something upon which to build for the future. Such a future depends on harnessing the talents of employees and developing them to lead into the future.
In too many organizations, front-line managers are viewed as doers not deciders, implementers not contributors, and compliers not creators. If these precepts seem arcane, more in keeping with nineteenth-century management principles than twenty-first-century ways of managing, it is because they are, according to a recent study by McKinsey & Company. Unfortunately, this study found that these ideas are still au courant in today’s world of front-line management, particularly in distributed management locations – for example, retail, transportation, and real estate. McKinsey concludes that such practices are making organizations “less productive, less agile, and less profitable.” 1
Most corporations operate on principles of hierarchy. That is good for ensuring the development and execution of strategy, but it falls flat, as the McKinsey study and others like it have found, when it comes to being responsive to change and responsible for people. One highlight of the study noted that managers were spending more time on transaction than transformation—that is, more on administration than people. In contrast, “at best-practice companies, front-line managers allocated 60 to 70 per cent of their time to the floor, much of it in high-quality individual coaching.” Additionally, such managers had more opportunities to make decisions and “act on opportunities.” 13
If I were a manager, I would use this information as my entree to advocate for more autonomy, or what we might call “leading from the middle.” Here are some ways to put your ideas into action:
*Develop a plan of action. Consider how you can be more effective in your job by making decisions that allow your department to be more responsive to customer needs and more accountable to corporate directives. In other words, look for things you can do to delegate tasks so you can focus on thinking more strategically for your team.
*Become a person of influence. Organizations operate on influence; those with influence get things done. Titles facilitate influence, of course, but truly influential employees are those who lead by their example. They are proactive; they think ahead. More important, they get things done on time and on budget. In short, they earn their stripes by following through.
*Act more like a boss. Supervisors should supervise the work, not do it. Avoid getting sucked into “feed the monster” tasks that satisfy immediate needs but only waste time. You can do this by thinking how you can effect positive change in ways that optimize value. This can take the form of optimizing operations, retraining employees, reducing costs and spending more time with customers.
*Be prepared for setbacks. There used to be a saying in Hollywood that for every person who could say yes to your project, there were 50 who could and would say no! Those pushing from the middle need to steel themselves to push back. It will come not just from bosses, but from colleagues as well. Perseverance is essential to driving initiatives upward through an organization.
*Believe in yourself. Fortunate will be the manager who sells an idea upward the first time. Often it will take many tries to get your good ideas heard, as well as acted upon. During that time, continue to refine your idea. Listen to feedback. Most of all, don’t lose faith in yourself. If your idea is rejected, find out why. Timing may be the reason. Put it away and plunge yourself into another project. A new day, or a new boss, may create new opportunities for you. Through it all, never stop believing in your ability to effect positive change.
Empowering managers to focus on people and make more decisions will be a challenge, but it is exactly what twenty-first-century managers need to do. Sharp administration is vital to efficiency, but managers can automate and delegate those skills so they have time to spend with their people to help problem-solve as well as think creatively about how to do things better. At the same time, there will be times when front-line managers will have to pitch in and help get the work done, either doing this themselves or finding extra folks to help out.
Focusing on the human equation of management pays off. Managers who have a degree of self-determination can do what it takes to improve their function, be it sales, manufacturing, or health care. Improving productivity is an imperative, especially in challenging times. Those who can lead from the middle, and are accorded the right to do so (as McKinsey advocates), will outperform their counterparts in more hide-bound positions.
•Look at succession planning as succession development. Make it known that succession development is a partnership for organizational growth.
•Identify high-potential employees on a regular basis. Create a system by which employees who have the ability as well as the desire to move up are recognized. Provide them with mentors who can help them manage their careers.
•Offer cross-functional training so that employees can broaden their skills.
•Encourage job rotations so that employees have the opportunity to learn new things about the business.
•Present professional development opportunities. These can take the form of participation in in-house leadership and management programs or executive education courses. The former offer employees the opportunity to learn from senior leaders and bond with peers, while the latter offer a chance to learn new skills from executives in a variety of different fields.
•Provide coaching for high-potential employees. Assess their leadership capabilities and styles. Offer them the opportunity to work with an executive coach who can help them achieve their leadership potential.
Adapted from Lead With Purpose: Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself (AMACOM Books) © 2012 John Baldoni
1 Aaron DeSmet, Monica McGurt and Mark Vinson “ Unlocking the potential of front-line managers ” McKinsey Quarterly August 2009
About John Baldoni
John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator, executive coach, speaker, and author of 10 books, including his newest Lead With Purpose, Giving Your Organization a Reason to Believe in Itself or. In 2011, Leadership Gurus International ranked him No. 11 on its list of top thirty leadership experts. For more information, visit: www.johnbaldoni.com/