BLUF: Junior members of the firm cannot develop the skills they need to be effective senior leaders by just showing up for work every day and getting things done. Many do the minimum to “get by” in a developmental sense (going to training, reading the email articles I send, complaining about their boss and boasting about how things will be different when they are in charge, etc.) Great leaders and effective managers develop themselves a skill at a time with a thoughtful development plan that includes managing themselves, managing their network, and managing their team. The article, “Are You a Good Boss - or a Great One?” in the Jan - Feb issue of the Harvard Business Review provides excellent guidance on planning and managing the learning journey necessary to become a Great Boss.
Three strategies can guide managers on their journey to becoming great bosses: (1) Manage yourself. Productive influence comes from people’s trust in your competence and character. (2) Manage your network. The organization as a whole must be engaged to create the conditions for your own and your team’s success. (3) Manage your team. Effective managers forge a high-performing “we” out of all the individuals who report to them. Constant and probing self-assessment across these three imperatives is essential. The article includes a useful self-assessment.
Many managers underestimate how much they have to adapt and improve their skills as they gain experience and accept assignments of increasing complexity and responsibility. They cannot expect that just because their organization promotes them a few times and moves them between jobs that they will be competent and effective enough to be successful as a senior leader. Sorry, it does not work this way. Great leaders and effective managers develop themselves a skill at a time with a thoughtful development plan that includes managing themselves, managing their network, and managing their team.
Develop an integrated way of thinking about what you do, what you want to do, and how making changes or improvements to them will help you grow as a leader.
If you read my blog regularly, this should look familiar because it is a central them in Peter Drucker’s “The Effective Executive,” which I have blogged about before. It also figures prominently in Daniel Goleman’s concept of Emotional Intelligence.
Great leadership is all about influence, not giving orders because you are the boss. You cannot give an order to get the results that are most important to you and the organization (this is the paradox of knowledge work). The kind of person you are, what you think and feel, the beliefs and values motivating what you do, and especially how you connect with others all matter the people you need to influence (subordinates, peers, and superiors).
Manage Your Network
You cannot get things done in large organizations merely with good arguments. Many managers resist the need to operate effectively in their organizations’ political environments. Politics unavoidably arises from three features inherent in all organizations: division of labor (disparate groups with sometimes conflicting goals and priorities); interdependence; and scarce resources. Conflict and competition among groups are inevitable. Skillful managers resolve these natural conflicts through organizational influence: proactively engaging peers and their boss to create the conditions for their success, especially taking responsibility for making their boss, a key member of their network, a source of influence on their behalf.
Manage Your Team
Managing one-on-one is just not the same as managing a group. You can influence individual behavior much more effectively through the group. To do collective work that requires varied skills, experience, and knowledge, teams, members hold themselves and one another jointly accountable. Members need to know what’s required of them collectively and individually; what the team’s values, norms, and standards are; how members are expected to work together. It’s your job to make sure they have all this crucial knowledge.
Be Clear on How You’re Doing
You need to know at all times where you are on your developmental journey and what you must do to make progress. You have to be prepared to regularly assess yourself.
There’s no substitute for routinely taking a look at yourself and how you’re doing (the authors of the article provide a diagnostic "Measuring Yourself on the Three Imperatives" for this purpose).
What You Can Do Monday Morning
Step 1, take responsibility for your own development; ultimately, all development is self-development. You won’t make progress unless you consciously act. Set personal goals. Solicit feedback from others. Take advantage of company training programs. Create a network of trusted advisers, including role models and mentors. Step 2, the authors recommend a simple approach they call prep, do, review. Prep - plan your development around the day’s or near future’s events, think how any activity, if done differently, could help you improve. Do - use the new and different approaches you planned as you do your daily work, don’t avoid doing things you know you are not doing well. Review - at the end of the day or the week, examine what you did and how it turned out (where learning really occurs), reflection is critical and works best if you make it a regular practice (you might also keep notes about what you are learning in a journal).
A final note, this short summary of the article is no substitute for actually reading it and putting it into practice on your own. I practice all these skills (the weekly review not so much, but I will try harder to do that now that I have read the article) regularly so I can attest to how important they are to being an effective executive.
For Further Reading
- What Makes an Effective Executive, Peter Drucker (If you have not read this yet, what are you waiting for? If you think you don’t have enough time, just read the HBR reprint article, which is only 6 pages.)
- The Empowered Manager, Peter Block (Block goes into great depth about how to use politics in a positive way and how to assess the willingness of people to support you and what concrete actions to take)
- What Makes a Leader?, Daniel Goleman (A short HBR article about Emotional Intelligence that I read in the mid-90s that still informs my actions. No surprise, this is a classic.)