The Challenges of Leadership

Welcome back to our Monday morning articles.  Having spent one of the last two Mondays travelling and the other on half term break with my son, one of the most presently important points for me seems to be balance.  We’ve spoken about balance over the previous few weeks when we addressed the 6 Core Human Needs – how we’re all seeking to balance those needs in light of our own individual tolerances and how those needs affect our behaviour and decision making.

Balance requires perspective to know that you’re off balance and an idea of what it looks like to seek more or less of something to get that balance right.  One of the hardest places to gain full perspective is from a position of leadership, and yet there is no greater position that requires constant information and reassessing.  For that reason, I’ve decided to spend the next few weeks going over the
6 Common Challenges of Leadership based on a white paper by William A. Gentry, Regina H. Eckert, Sarah A. Stawiski, and Sophia Zhao.

Having studied the challenges of those leading from middle to executive level management, they found that their challenges fell mainly into 6 areas:

• Developing Managerial Effectiveness
• Inspiring Others
• Developing Employees
• Leading a Team
• Guiding Change
• Managing Internal Stakeholders and Politics

This gives us 6 areas to focus on and today we’re going to tackle Developing Managerial Effectiveness.  The above-mentioned authors described Developing Managerial Effectiveness as “The challenge of developing the relevant skills—such as time management, prioritisation, strategic thinking, decision-making, and getting up to speed with the job—to be more effective at work.”

In an ideal world, a management team would consist of people specifically educated in the focus they’re leading as well as in high level managerial skills.  Preferably, they’d all have a degree in psychology too.  In reality though, the great majority of teams are managed at middle, and even executive level by people without MBAs or formal managerial training.  They are rather managed by people who have climbed the managerial ladder and have often been promoted in-house.  This means that, whilst these leaders may have knowledge of how their department and focus works, having worked their way up or through that skill base for enough time to show significant prowess, they many lack the skills to manage people and a team.

Most of us have developed some degree of self-management over the years, certainly if we’ve gained any growth or momentum in our careers.  Perhaps you’ve specifically read, studied or sought out information on subjects such as time management and prioritisation of tasks.  Perhaps you’ve just developed your own theory as a coping mechanism.  Most people, and that includes those in managerial leadership roles, have never had training targeted at strategic thinking, decision-making, stress management, and most importantly, Big Picture Outlook.

As our knowledge of the skills and focus at hand increases, so does our level of responsibility.  Consequently, when that responsibility now includes managing a department, the majority of leaders find that they not only have the skills and focus they’ve honed to deliver, but a whole new ball game on their plate.  That of managing outcomes, direction, energy and politics within the team they lead.  Because few managers or executives are specifically trained in these areas, the added pressure tends to mean they respond with what they know how to do.  They put their heads down and they follow through.  They work harder rather than smarter.  They manage their people and their processes.  Or at least they try.

Firstly, I believe that you manage resources, systems and equipment – but you lead people.  Leadership skills are different to management skills.  Secondly, when you find yourself in a position of leadership, one of the most vital parts of that role is the ability to look up and see the bigger picture.  If a leader cannot look up and see the bigger picture of how what they’re leading their team to accomplish fits into the overall outcome and direction for the business, then it’s going to be very hard for them to stay on any kind of track.  Worse still, if a leader doesn’t have clarity on what the big picture is, then there’s no chance of every department pulling in the same direction.

Such is the case for clear direction – goals attached to clear values, vision and mission, and investing time in ensuring your leaders have the required skills to actually lead a team cohesively towards that vision.  Goals change, and without an overall and longer term vision, direction will start to waver as those goals change.  The energy and passion to pursue a long term outcome will also be lacking as our inspiration comes from knowing with clarity and purpose what we’re aiming at and why.  Without clear values, team members will find themselves at loggerheads in an environment that conflicts with their belief systems and with which they share little commonality.

When it comes to the importance of being able to maintain the Big Picture, I’ve written two previous articles you can refer to:
The Big Picture – Direction, Clarity, Energy and Shake Your Head, Your Eyes Are Stuck.

If you find yourself in a scenario where you yourself have your head down managing rather than leading people, or you’re leading a team of people who have their heads down, suffice to say it’s worth acknowledging that some additional skills and training are warranted.  You’re not alone – leaders the world over have this exact same problem.

Firstly, make sure you have the fundamentals down.  Remember that a team has several important characteristics:

 

Team members have shared goals in relation to their work.

Team members interact with each other in order to achieve shared objectives.

Team members have well­-defined and interdependent roles.

Team members have an organisational identity as a team with a defined organisational function.

(Unsworth & West, 2000)


Without clarity on goals and roles, there’s going to be chaos for a start, and you leave all sorts of holes for nasty politics and dynamics to creep in.  This clarity must be set from the top down and championed.  With this clarity, your management team can now focus on guiding their people towards that clear direction.  As discussed, their ability to do so hinges on whether they’ve trained to lead.

Here are a few things you can action:


• Set up the space to start some conversations within the team that acknowledge there are some leadership skills we all need to train for.  Skills that don’t come as “standard install” for most.  Discuss skills such as time-management, prioritisation, strategic thinking, decision-making and Big Picture outlook.  Without acknowledgement of the fact these require training, your team leaders may feel like they’re failing without knowing why.  They may feel that they’re not as qualified for the role as they thought they were – and they’d be right!  Leadership requires a different skill set to managing processes or a focused skill set because there are more people and perspective involved.  Invite your team leaders to weigh in.  Let the conversation run, let them laugh at themselves, suggest systems that have worked for them etc – but get the COMMUNICATION flowing.


• If you have people moving up into managerial roles, appreciate that managing people to do tasks you’ve previously done yourself isn’t the same as leading them.  Feed people moving up the chain with appropriate skills growth so that they can be effective.  Leaving them to figure it out is both cruel and unproductive.


• Where there are various ways of doing something – like time management – create a time and space for discussion of this skill.  Give a short presentation on it from your own perspective, and invite others to bring the methods that work for them to the party.  Nominate people who have obvious skills in certain areas to share.


• Stop the cycle – hire slow, fire fast.  If you need to hire more team members, do so with intention rather than trying to plug the holes created by leaders without the requisite leadership skills.  Make sure you hire in line with your criteria which should be attached to your values system to ensure you get a good team fit as well as a job fit.  And make sure you’ve acknowledged the need to train leadership skills before you assume your team is somehow deficient in their abilities outside this training.


Ultimately, being able to lead people to a desired outcome requires perspective, energy and clarity of direction.  Leadership requires that we constantly reassess these things and ensure our teams have sight of them.  How effective is your management?  They may be skilled in their roles, but are they trained to lead people?  Do they possess the ability to maintain the Big Picture that allows them to each lead their own team towards a common greater outcome?  If not, how can you help your managers become leaders?

by Christen Killick

August 26th, 2019

5 Comments

  1. Letha Mccrane on October 18, 2019 at 10:42 pm

    Outstanding post, you have pointed out some good points, I too believe this s a very wonderful website.

    • Christen Killick on October 20, 2019 at 7:57 am

      Thank you.

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