Show ’Em, Don’t Just Tell ’Em

In many companies – small and large – the leaders have the perspective of “Just get it done.” They will promote someone or put them in a role they aren’t fully equipped to do and then expect them to figure it out. There are libraries filled with books on developing management skills, and they sit on the shelves right alongside the books on bad bosses! It seems the “just do it” philosophy doesn’t often work.

An article from earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal (Monday, 4/28/14 “Why Managers Are Stuck in Their ‘Silos’”) confirms this phenomenon. Their research shows that while businesses have high expectations of their managers, they don’t do a lot to give them the tools, training and coaching they need to be successful. The article talks about the importance of mentoring programs and staying current.

What can the leaders of these companies do to support their staff more effectively, especially their managers? After all, it truly is more effective to teach the man or woman how to fish rather than to give them the fish and walk away! If budget is an issue and a business can’t afford coaching or a formal training department, the following are ways to improve a new manager’s ability to manage – but the leader or leaders has to be willing to put some effort into it:

  1. Be specific in terms of desired outcome and expectations. “Just get it done” is often the mantra, but underneath it is a laundry list of things that need to be accomplished. What are those things? What are the priority items? What are the deadlines? Being as specific as possible with your managers, and asking them to be as specific as possible with their people, is a critical first step.
  2. Create an environment of connection. While no one likes useless meetings, companies that adopt a “get together” attitude and schedule check-ins on a regular basis to either fix a problem, figure out a next step or check progress on an implementation plan will find that managers learn more about what’s happening in a timely manner and can work from the information more effectively.
  3. Create a culture that catches people doing things right, and allows for corrective action when they aren’t. This means being specific. Being very specific. Not waiting until the six-month or year-end performance review, but rather having an open dialogue that is focused on what’s working and what needs to be changed. When something needs to be changed, coach your managers on how to be specific. Instead of “I need you to be more aggressive in meetings going forward,” specific feedback would be “In the last meeting when Joe asked you for your opinion, you said you had nothing to say and yet after the meeting you gave me an earful. I need you to find a way to respond to Joe next time with your thoughts and ideas. Would it be helpful to role-play this so you are prepared next time?”
  4. Set an example. Be a clear communicator. Set goals and make sure everyone knows what they are and knows the role they play in achieving them. Instead of being vague about where you are going, be clear from a quantitative and qualitative perspective about what the company, the division and each individual needs to accomplish to get to the goals. Then update your staff. Let them know what’s working and what’s not.

If any given manager is queried on where they learned their management skills, assuming they are positive and strong, they will likely respond that they had a “great boss” or a “great mentor.” They won’t necessarily point to a great training program unless the leader of the company is setting an example, and training is a more formalized complement to what’s already happening inside the firm.
The leaders need to see that they play a key role in ensuring their management team learns how to manage – and how to lead. It’s not just about getting something done; it’s about using resources effectively, motivating team members and creating a culture where people want to succeed.