What are YOU Willing to Give Up?

By Bill Dickinson, Senior Leadership Advisor

How a company understands, defines, and frames an employee’s role and responsibilities fosters both clarity of purpose and productivity in results. In short, our organizational “lens” for how we develop and empower our people—all people in the organization—influences one’s engagement and output.

I am familiar with a privately-owned company where the senior level leadership clearly embraced a hierarchical view of leadership. Their “lens” was a clear division of labor and where the manager (of which there were 1000’s) was understood as the “worker bee”. Managers were functionaries; they were not understood or viewed as leaders. Therefore, front-line experience was ignored, innovation from those closest to the product or service was devalued, and, both low morale and defensive egos were tolerated. It’s no wonder that the company is going through, still, another major reorganization.

Senior leadership, in today’s ever changing and disruptive marketplace, have an opportunity to embrace humility and learning agility like never before. Learning agility has many definitions, I favor something like the following:

  • A learning opportunity that requires finding and developing individuals who are continually able to give up skills, perspectives, and ideas that are no longer relevant, and learn new ones that make an immediate difference in what appears to be a never ending VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex & ambiguous) environment in our businesses.

My invitation to those in senior leadership roles is to “give up” a perspective that suggests and promotes managers as functionaries or operational minions. Said another way, if managers have not earned the designation, role, or respect “as leader” than they shouldn’t be managers.

Whatever your industry, product, or service, those entrusted with the vision, purpose, values, and results of the organization need to better learn about and develop their own “mindsets” as well as their “managers” as leaders.

This is as much a mindset as well as it is a disciplined practice

Learning agility can be assessed and developed, and particularly at senior levels. The potential barrier to overcome is the “mindset” of the current senior leader that conveys, “I’ve earned this spot”. “I know what I’m doing”. “This is what they pay me for”. Or, “I innovate, and you implement”.

And, the following two pieces of data should provide some incentive:

  • Korn Ferry found companies with highly agile senior leaders and executives have 25% higher profit margins than their peer group. [KF Study, 2014]
  • Executives with high levels of learning agility, tolerance for ambiguity, empathy and social fluidity are five times more likely to be highly engaged…and therefore more effective with others.

Let me restate this premise: Company managers are leaders. Indeed, they may not be senior level leaders—yet! Or, perhaps they will never be a senior leader—for any number of valid reasons. But your managers are leaders. And, as such need to be honored and developed as leaders to enable people-leader skills and technical capabilities together.

The invitation to those who are senior level leaders is to exercise the kind of leadership that esteems your managers. This is as much a mindset as well as it is a disciplined practice in consultation, collaboration, and communication with your managers! And, one’s own learning agility can accelerate this understanding and engagement opportunity.

So, for all those senior leaders who have responsibility for the ongoing work of managers, let me propose three solutions for your consideration:

C-Suite Leaders develop and demand a new appreciation for their mid-level managers who lead and represent the company in untold ways. What is your “lens” for how they operate and succeed? How do you honor and respect them for their role?

  • ✓ Engage an experienced facilitator to orchestrate this “discovery”; be mindful of unconscious bias, trends influencing future leadership, millennial managers who demand more, and your own openness and “agility’ for learning?

Yes, invest in high-potentials; but for every dollar spent on hi-po’s spend twice as much on your managers. There are far more managers than high-potentials, and they influence the culture and productivity of your organization much more than you realize.

  • ✓ Create sample or beta-test groups of managers with two different kinds of leadership development opportunities. Do pre and post-tests? Evaluate ROI. Fine-tune or implement, companywide, the series with the most impact and improvement—manager as leader. Be sure to include several people-leader best-practices in your content.

Senior leaders, together, choose to engage in 360 Feedback for real-time data and insight on “how you lead”; including areas to leverage for ongoing success and those to minimize based on diverse feedback for improvement.

  • ✓ With an experienced and trusted facilitator, transparently share your results with one another, and the action steps you are taking to proactively improve and to lead even more effectively. Check-in with one another every four months for support and accountability.

At Turknett Leadership Group we honor all leaders. For over 30 years we have learned from you. In addition, we have been in the forefront of research and design development to remain current in addressing your particular leadership development needs. Like you, we are choosing to be agile in our learning and to create learning experiences that foster engagement as well as sustainability for “practice over time”.

As we do more and more work in support of senior leaders, including their managers as leaders, let us accompany you in customized material that celebrates your company’s purpose as well as addresses your unique needs for relevance in growing your business—and your people.