Organizations go to great lengths to help managers improve their leadership skills. This perpetual gap may be the single biggest organizational challenge of our time. Imagine the positive impact to organizations if we figure this out!
Why the continued gap in leadership skills?
In my lengthy HR career, I have found that often people seek to enter management for reasons other than being skilled or passionate about managing others, for example, to make more money. Additionally, companies who promote people into management often let a person’s strong technical track record drive decisions.
There is certainly more to it, but the result, in my experience, is that most managers can be broken up into three groups:
- Great at managing others, 20%.
- OK at managing others, but mostly good technicians, 60%.
- Poor at managing others, 20%.
Then, when putting groups of managers or leaders through leadership programs:
- The first category of leaders already leading well became better. They loved the act of trying to improve their ability to positively impact and motivate others, and volunteered to share their knowledge with others.
- The second category came away with one or two tactics they could apply, but when faced with day-to-day demands, they’d forget to take the time and effort to create new habits.
- The third category showed no change in ability, or interest in applying new tools.
- Typically, there was no tie of these efforts and resulting expenditure to any department financial or other performance metrics. There is rarely even a tie to the individual’s performance metrics.
My conclusion was that companies spent a lot of money and time to improve leaders, but mostly only improved the ones who were already good at leading. Not an entirely wasteful exercise, but I know there were higher expectations. And, without built-in accountability, people habitually continued in their usual ways.
A simple tactic to increase the number of great leaders: better selection
What if companies shifted 25% of the time and money spent on improving existing leaders to selecting leaders who actually have the desire and capability to lead others?
Make core leadership capabilities the #1 hiring qualification for management positions, and then actively source and recruit for it. You could simply cut and paste the leadership qualities you have in training manuals into relevant job descriptions and ensure recruiters and hiring managers screen for these skills, even above industry expertise.
Wanting to make more money is a common reason people desire to advance. Technical competency is often why companies promote unsuspecting individual contributors. This is a recipe for mediocre leadership and results. Consider more careful selection of those you will entrust to manage others – an additional layer of screening to ensure there is tangible interest in and track record of effectively leading people.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward