Founder of the Manager's Boot Camp.
Many managers in the not-for-profit setting believe that passion for the vision is enough to motivate and align staff to do great work. A commitment to vision, by developing leadership at the helm, has substantially increased over the last 10 years. Managers, however – especially new managers – are less prepared for the role of overseeing the day-to-day activities that contribute to achieving the vision.
An individual contributing at the front lines who shows initiative and problem-solving skills is often tapped on the shoulder and asked to take on management responsibilities. But it can be a sink-or-swim proposition if those new managers are given little orientation or training in their new role. They may not yet have the emotional stamina, resilience, organization, system awareness, critical thinking or communication skills to deal with the many interpersonal challenges they are bound to face as managers.
The result? Organizations suffer. A new manager may use an autocratic, passive or manipulative "leadership" style that bullies staff to do the job or fails to rally them at all. Employees and teams can repeatedly stray from the key objectives, mission or strategies. Flawed or half-baked plans put the organization at risk of failure. Or a very good plan sits on the shelf and never gets implemented.
All of these negative outcomes can be traced back to insufficient manager competency.
Gallup research has shown that managers account for 70 per cent of variance in whether staff are productively engaged in the work of the organization. Unfortunately, the fact that 50 per cent of employees leave a job because of their manager means that a great many managers fail. The consequences are significant: high staff turnover results in an organization that is merely treading water and doesn't move forward.
Avoiding these outcomes is essential to the well-functioning organization. Developing management skills doesn't have to be elaborate or costly, but it helps to be deliberate. Steps to success involve recognizing management skills and needs, developing a road map to reach levels of competency, and training in the essentials of managing people.
Technical skills such as budgeting, scheduling staff work and data management are important but more easily learned on the job. The "softer" skills of managing people in an organizational setting are not easily taught, and in some cases are never acquired. These skills develop over time and at an individual's own pace, which depends on their starting ability, experience and beliefs.
Here are five things a new manager can do to support their own development:
1. Ask for a hiring letter or development contract. When you agree to take on new responsibilities as a manager, it is helpful to first do a self-evaluation of your level of competency and then explicitly ask what your limits of authority are and when you are required to consult. Disciplining a staff member, for example, requires a manager to document concerns and review options, but it is always advisable for new managers to consult before taking action. New and developing managers need more opportunities for check-ins and coaching. You'll need to schedule time to commit to your development in the first year, so build that into the contract.
2. Look for a comprehensive job description. In addition to the list of responsibilities in your area of focus, job descriptions should include the key competencies you are expected to develop or practice. For example, in the competency of critical thinking, the expectations might be: organizes work to meet regular deadlines, generates potential alternative solutions to problems and seeks guidance for unusual or recurring issues. Even when the organization has not explicitly stated this expectation, it is still there and will appear as issues arise. The manager can ask for clarification with a question like, "What do you want me to be good at to do this job?"
3. Start an individualized learning plan and journal. Managers who do a self-evaluation of the level at which they are functioning in each competency give themselves an advantage in discussions with their supervisor or the staff they supervise. Set objectives for development and specified learning and training activities in each competency. For example, in the competency of emotional intelligence, you should be deliberate in choosing the management style you'll use to lead team meetings. Think about the specific personal and organizational values you need to commit to, identify the training you need in areas for development such as cultural competency, and seek feedback from your supervisor and staff regarding how they perceive your style and whether it is effective.
4. Request a regular performance review, if it's not already scheduled. In addition to regularly scheduled check-ins for coaching, the annual performance review is an opportunity for you to get feedback on your development in the competencies expected in your organization. Use your learning journal to track progress and set new objectives.
5. Ask for training. New managers benefit from coaching on the essentials of interpersonal supervision, especially when the training involves interactive dialogue with peer managers who have similar goals and are experiencing similar challenges. Training will help you to understand a manager's authority as well as its limits and expose you to the different styles of leadership that will help you do the job in the face of various pressures and challenges. You'll develop useful techniques for talking with staff, especially for difficult conversations, and you'll acquire the skills you need to run a meeting and lead your team. Finally, you'll discover tools to juggle multiple demands and priorities.
It takes one to three years for a developing manager to become a fully competent performer. When you create a road map, you identify milestones to chart progress. Training then adds fuel to drive your development in the role. The positive results will trickle down to your staff and make your organization more effective. Full realization of the vision will surely follow.
Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.