Like many middle managers, Jenny aspired to move up the organizational chart and join the senior leadership team. She was smart, handled herself well and knew the importance of meeting customer needs. She valued her team and was very inspirational at times. So why was she stuck in a rut at the middle management level? What was she missing that prevented her from further advancement? These are questions many leaders ask over the course of their careers.
Just as world-class athletes focus on strengthening their core muscles in order to excel in their sport, so too must leaders strengthen their core manager functions. Jenny may have successfully mastered some dimensions of leadership, but may not have fully strengthened her core manager functions. Without this strong foundation, high performance as a manager can be evasive and promotion to greater leadership roles unrealistic.
What are the key functions that every manager needs to practice that will create top performance and enable promotability? What critical skills do leaders need to strengthen every day to achieve outstanding business and people results?
At the core of every leader’s development are five essential functions:
- Following Through
Research is clear that when a manager demonstrates excellence in these five functions, they build highly committed teams, become capable of upward mobility, and attain higher levels of achievement.
For anyone who has ever taken a course in basic leadership, this isn’t new information. Unfortunately, many who aspire for higher career levels of leadership tend to get impatient and skip mastering the core rudiments of management. They want to sprint before mastering walking. At the core of every good leader are strong skills in the five essential functions of management.
“If you fail to plan, you should plan to fail.”
My first mentor told me this early in my leadership journey in order to emphasize how important it was to master the art of planning. Having a clear understanding of your organization’s business, goals, strategies, and vision helps managers set clear goals and expectations for their team. It helps them to be able to clearly communicate what is and isn’t important. Before springing into action, a good manager must plan her team’s course and think about such things as timing, possible roadblocks, impact on customers, and desired results. Planning doesn’t just provide you with a map from “Point A” to “Point B”, it helps to create purpose. Employees need purpose. Purpose enhances engagement. Engagement improves productivity. It all starts with planning!
Prioritizing the work needed to be done and determining who will do it are key components of solid organizing. Linking the work to the company’s purpose/mission/vision helps in prioritizing and provides the foundation for focusing on results. A critical part of organizing is selecting the right people to own and deliver the results of a particular assignment. If I were to rank the #1 area in need of improvement of the thousands of leaders I have coached, delegation would be the clear winner. Prioritizing workload, managing conflict and effectively delegating are all components of delivering excellence.
All leaders want to deliver excellence, but many, particularly new ones, struggle with delegation. Delegation isn’t easy. Directing others to do what made the leader so successful when they were a regular employee doesn’t make much sense, but it must be done or one will drown in all of the work and ultimately fail as a leader. And, those that do delegate tend to not only delegate the what, when and why, but also the how. We know these managers as “micromanagers.” Don’t delegate the “how.” Allowing employees to discover this on their own is an important step in development – the leader’s and employee’s.
Where I grew up in Ohio, football was king. Playing for the high school football team was the pinnacle of life. Why? Because the coaches knew how to select, develop, retain and motivate the team. The team was ultra-successful. Many never got to experience it again as they entered into the work world. The coaches clearly understood the phases of team development: forming, storming, norming and performing, and how to bring out the best in team members. So, why is it so hard at work? Developing self and others takes time and resources. Some leaders and organizations either don’t have the time and resources or unwisely choose not to make the investment and are left to wonder why performance and productivity aren’t at acceptable levels. Learning to manage egos and effectively listening to others takes practice and patience. Think about successful teams and what made them so successful. Why not model it in the workplace?
Over the course of my career, I have watched organizations shift their emphasis from wanting satisfied employees to wanting engaged employees, and now to wanting empowered ones. Why the shift? A healthcare CEO client recently told me the story of receiving a call from a nurse at one of the health system’s hospitals. The nurse reported to the CEO that the chicken being served to one of their patients wasn’t acceptable. I casually commented about the nurse being an engaged employee and caring about the patient. The CEO’s response was outstanding: “I don’t need the nurse to be engaged, I need the nurse to feel empowered enough to just get the patient another piece of chicken and not feel the need to call the CEO.” The CEO was correct. Engaging others in such a way that they feel empowered and have a willingness to try something new – to make and lead change – takes time and trust. Inspiring commitment and transforming employees from being engaged to being empowered is difficult, but powerful.
5. Following Through
We all know managers who seem to spend their day in endless activities. They are always busy, but yet do not meet their performance goals. Doing things right is good, but doing the right things right is better. Yet, doing the right things right and delivering excellence is best. Knowing what to do, why it needs to be done, when it is due and how to do it, isn’t enough. Making sure it all gets done and delivering excellence is. Managers need to own results, really own them. Some managers get so caught up in day-to-day activities, they forget to focus on the ultimate goal – achieving results. Doing so requires holding self and others accountable, coaching, measuring, focusing on the customer and much more. It is hard work, but it is work that must be done if success is wanted.
Your Leadership Core Muscles
Being a leader is tough work. No one ever said it was going to be easy. For those leaders with higher aspirations in mind, your path to senior leadership requires strength in the core management functions. Mastering planning, organizing, teaming, empowering and following through will help to create the solid foundation needed for future success as a leader.