Are Your Managers the Cause of Your Leadership Shortage?


As a leadership trainer I encounter a number of people that are sent to training to become better leaders in their organization.  When I ask them what conversations they had with their managers before coming to training I tend to get a blank stare.  When I ask for a show of hands of who plans a conversation with their managers when they return, I am lucky if 1 person in 25 raises their hand.  Why do so many managers wash their hands of developing leaders?  Have we as trainers done such an excellent job in developing leaders that they don’t have to do it anymore?

Since the number of people in our classes does not seem to be declining and people still talk of leadership shortages, I would guess not.  At any rate it keeps us employed but does it make sense to hold someone else responsible for developing your leaders?

Now before my employer goes into a panic and you slash your training budget, I am not saying training is not valuable, I am saying it is a component.  If you train a mouse to navigate a maze would you be surprised if, when you put it back into a regular cage with a wheel, the mouse reverts to walking around as normal and spinning in the wheel?  Why then do you expect an employee to act different when she leaves training?  Her environment is the same as it always was.   It should be no surprise when she starts spinning her wheels again.

Change is rarely ever an event, especially when it comes to deeply seated behavior that has been reinforced by feedback, evaluation, and reward.  Sending an employee to training is only part of the process.  Along with that you need to look at your expectations.  What are they?  What are they doing now that you want to be different?  What are you evaluating them on?  Do employees get rewarded for being leaders or for being task experts?

Even at individual contributor levels characteristics of a leader can be seen.  Do they come up with new ways to do something?  Do they question conventional wisdom?  Are they asking you “why?”?  Do you expect them to?  Or do you want them to just “tow the line”?

Leaders are seldom happy with the status quo.  They are always looking for an opportunity to do something better, find a better way, or be more efficient.  They help their colleagues learn and apply new methods.  Are you encouraging that or creating an environment where they have to “make sure they are doing it the ‘right’ way”?

Many managers struggle with allowing that level of autonomy around the “how” work gets done.  Primarily because they have been promoted for “how” they did their work.  This inevitably leads to a pattern of micromanagement that affirms their belief that “their way” is the “right way”; because, after all, that is what got them promoted.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Believe it or not, Gandhi was talking to you.  Yes, you.  Before you send your future leaders to a class, be clear about what you need to change.  Chances are some of it is you.  And there is a fair chance that much of it is the structure and culture in which your “leaders” will be asked to lead.  Change the environment and then give them to skills to navigate it.

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One thought on “Are Your Managers the Cause of Your Leadership Shortage?

  1. Pingback: 10 Things Good Bosses Do « Peak Alignment

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