Making Your Managers Better Leaders

By Lea McLeod, M.A.

According to a recent Conference Board CEO Challenge , “Building a culture that supports engagement, employee training, leadership development, and high performance is something companies can control, and can mean the difference between growing market share and simply surviving.”

That means the managers in your organization, at every level, must better stimulate and engage teams on the front line.

It’s widely cited that employees leave managers, not organizations. As you work with managers in your organization, coach them to pay attention to what’s happening with their employees, and in their organizations:

Master the Art of Leadership Self-Awareness

Leadership, and management, begins with knowing how you show up in the world. The first step your managers can take towards becoming better leaders is to become more aware of themselves, their style, and how they work with others.

As you work with managers on your team, ask provocative questions that encourage them to reflect, and consider their own leadership competencies.  In areas where they struggle, or may not have the skills, work on ideas or coaching to develop in those areas. Those questions might include:

  • What leadership qualities are your strongest?
  • What qualities are you working to improve?
  • Do your employees know what you’re working to improve, and do they know how to give you feedback you can hear?
  • What is the level of trust between you and your team?
  • Does your team feel safe enough to talk to you when they’ve made a mistake, or they are not sure of something?
  • Do the values you espouse as a leader show up in the way you recognize and reward performance?

These types of reflective questions, as well as other emotional intelligence and typology indicators help you understand your profile as a leader. Great leaders know themselves, and how they show up in the world to others.

Surveys Are Fine, But Try Having A Conversation With Them

Many employees would rather have a root canal than talk to their manager about issues in the workplace. In fact, I often see that fear (of being fired, getting into trouble, being seen as incompetent or a troublemaker) suppress essential voices that leaders need to hear in organizations. In many cases, those employees simply leave the organization.

Yet employee survey instruments may not provide the most authentic or actionable feedback for leaders. Ask your managers if they create an environment where employees feel comfortable coming to them with uncomfortable conversations. Do they know how to listen actively, and ask great questions to help clarify what their employees are saying?

Coach your managers to break down barriers with employees by holding regular meetings or one on one’s in which employees offer ideas and ask questions. Set the expectation to encourage employees to speak frankly without fear of repercussion or reprisal.

In short, forget the “employee engagement” surveys. Instead, have a conversation.

Building a culture of high performance means having conversations, often the really hard ones. The better your managers are at listening and having dialogue the better your culture will be at developing leaders that drive high performance.

Build And Cultivate Trust

Without trust your team cannot learn. When teams cannot learn, organizations cannot learn, and high performance is directly related to an organization’s capacity to learn.

Set the expectation that your managers make trust-building a high priority with their teams. Coach them for congruency in word and deed using these principles as starting points.

  1. Set the expectation they be consistent. Say what you do, do what you say. Treat everyone respectfully and differentiate only when performance demands that you should.
  2. Encourage managers to be open to being wrong, or not having every answer. Their teams will often hold the key for success, or know how to find it.
  3. Make sure employees know that their managers are “for” them. Too many clients I see are thinking, “My boss is out to get me.” If an employee has an issue, encourage your managers to have them share it, then determine how they will tackle it together.
  4. When working with teams, managers need to meet them where they are. Not every employee has the same expertise, background, or work style.

Your organization’s success depends so heavily on how your managers work with employees in their organizations. If you want growth, instead of survival, creating leadership depth at every level of manager in your organization is key. When our managers develop a sense of self-awareness, have conversations with their teams that matter, and build trust, you –and your organization – wins.

For more on creating winning conversations and development with your employees, contact Lea.