I remember being promoted to my first leadership position early in my career and thinking about how I was going to set the world on fire. Slowly, I began to realize that the role of the manager, being the leader of a team, is very different than the skills that led to my promotion.
I had to set aside the skills that got me promoted—technical excellence, having the right idea in meetings, achieving more than others, and managing self—to learn the skills and competencies of leadership. The role of leading others is very different from leading yourself. Leading others requires setting a shared vision, inspiring the team to achieve it, aligning the team to the organization’s mission and the team’s role, setting goals, delegating, and providing performance and development feedback and coaching — without micromanaging. And, above all, building trust with every team member, and having their back.
While these leadership competencies are easy to articulate, many newly promoted managers fail to learn them. I have seen many VPs struggle in their VP roles because they never learned to be good managers of a team. If managers do not learn these competencies well, their leadership careers will be derailed.
Let’s look at the nine key competencies for managers:
- Self-awareness. Many new leaders don’t understand how their choice of words, tone of voice, and behaviors affect the motivation and performance of their workers. I recommend that all new leaders take assessments to identify their leadership and communication style to develop this vitally important self-awareness. Leaders who gain self-awareness of their communication style and strengths — and who learn how to minimize the impact of their weaknesses — quickly become more influential and effective. Going a step further, I encourage leaders to share their communication and leadership style with their teams. They can also invite their teams to go through the same assessments, and then discuss the most effective communication style for the team.
- Ability to align their teams to the organization’s purpose and the team’s own role. Many employees don’t know how their work fits into the company’s purpose and business strategies, especially in large, matrixed or geographically dispersed organizations. Or worse, they don’t emotionally connect with their goals and work. The biggest motivators of people are purpose, the work itself, and a sense of achievement. While money keeps most employees coming to work, it is purpose that drives extraordinary effort. When leaders align a company’s purpose and strategies to the work of individuals and teams, the results are golden. Achieving this alignment takes constant communication and clarification. One and done communication won’t cut it.
No team is an island. Managers need to educate team members on their roles, explain how they support each team member, and describe how the team’s work fits into the larger enterprise systems that deliver a final solution to customers.
In addition, business today is digitally fast with constant disruption and new technology competitors, and changes to work processes. Managers must continually provide updated guidance to their employees to explain how these changes will adjust goals and priorities, and to keep everyone calm. This work requires constant alignment.
- Capacity to set goals and declare operating norms. Teams function best when everyone knows their goals and milestones, the norms of behaviors for team communications, where commonly used information is stored, and how to discuss and debate key issues including decision rights. Every team is going to have disagreements and arguments. That is part of figuring out the best course of action and is key for innovation. The manager’s role is to make sure everyone knows what is expected and how they work together as a team.
- Aptitude for delegation. For many new managers, this can be the most difficult skill to learn because many mangers were promoted because of their outstanding technical expertise and achievements. Now they must stop doing what led to their promotions and provide space for their team members to succeed. Delegation works well when the employee is not only given SMART goals and access to the experts, but when they are allowed to speak with their manager about the obstacles they are facing. The manager’s role is to coach and help the employee figure out how to overcome the barriers without doing the work for them. The practice of “sink or swim,” delegating tough tasks and letting employees figure it out for themselves, seldom works. Neither does micro-management. Learning to delegate is an essential skill for managers to learn. And, as you will learn in the next bullet point, how you delegate will depend on each employee.
- Ability to treat employees differently. It is a rare manager who has every team member with the same level of competencies for all of their jobs and the issues with their communication and collaboration behaviors. The typical team has a wide mix of talents on a team and varying skill levels. It is the role of the leader to adjust his or her leadership and feedback style to give each team member what they need. For example, a newly promoted employee will need more training, coaching, feedback, and follow-up than a seasoned veteran. A team member who never gets their administrative work completed on time will need different follow-up than a team member who is struggling with new job-skill training.
- Understanding of digital tools. The concept of the internet of everything (IoE) has been on hand for several years. Yet, about 80 percent of digitization efforts fail because the employees or the culture reject them, or the organization does not integrate work processes that allow robots to do what they do best and people to do what they do best. Organizations that will lead in tomorrow’s business environment will put in place digital tools and optimize the strengths of robots and workers to create new work processes — they will also train and reward their employees for making these changes. Managers have a critical role here in understanding new digital tools, integrating digital tools into the work processes, and involving, training, and rewarding employees for making these changes.
- Capacity for leading innovation. Many CEOs see a world where their organizations will need to continually change and innovate. This requires a culture of transparency, collaboration, and agility. Managers have a vital role in these cultures by encouraging questioning and innovation. And rewarding employees who collaborate and innovate. This is the exact opposite of the popular top-down, do-what-I tell-you leadership style of only 10 years ago. Today’s manager must know how to create team environments.
- Strength in providing constant feedback, coaching, recognition. Employees, especially younger workers, crave continual feedback, coaching, and recognition. This is even the case when the feedback is developmental or negative. The best model for delivering feedback is from the One Minute Manager: Be specific, timely, and tell them or show the person your gratitude. When providing negative feedback, the model is essentially the same, but with added steps for improvement, and when necessary, providing training or a coach. Never, attack the person directly.
- Aptitude for building trust. Research shows that the most successful work teams, especially those charged with solving problems, or developing innovative products, services or processes, are not those with the smartest employees, the best experts, the most dedicated employees, or even those with the most robust operating norms. (All of these qualities are important for teams, but not the most essential.) The best teams have employees who are empathetic and trust one another and their leader. Trust is the key. Building trust as a leader means getting to know each employee — their strengths and development areas, their motivations, hopes, and dreams — and having them feel involved, included, and recognized as a critical member of the team.
Being a manager is not for the weak-hearted. It is not as simple as having happy employees or the right answer. It is an exceptionally enriching and challenging role.
The first step is to set aside “self” to develop and lead the “us.”
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and works with companies to improve their recruiting, HR operations, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and cultures. His new book is: Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. You can buy it online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Archway Publishing, and now The SHRMStore. You can subscribe to his weekly blogs at www.VictorHrConsultant.com.