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Building Leaders on the Front Lines of Your Organization

(Cross-posted from the Harvard Business Publishing “Leading the Way” blog)

Your new managers matter. They’re on the front lines with your workforce, your customers, your competitors, and your markets. They have tremendous potential, and some of them will become your organization’s future executives.

But while you’ll be relying on your new managers to take care of the management basics—assigning workloads, supervising others, approving vacation requests, managing budgets, conducting performance reviews—there is another role that they can, and should, also step into: the role of leader.

In today’s fast-paced and complex world, change happens fast, and the lifespan of corporations just like yours has shrunk dramatically. Today:

Opportunities emerge quickly, and disappear with equal rapidity if someone else gets there first. Taking advantage of new opportunities can seldom wait for decisions to be made through a long-drawn-out, top-down decision-making process. Not every opportunity is the next Facebook or Twitter, but first-mover status continues to have its advantages.

New threats seem to emerge continuously, making competitive advantage more difficult to sustain. Organizations need to act rapidly and decisively to respond to, and leapfrog, the competition. One needs only to look at the ups and downs of the smartphone industry to see how fast things can happen.

Globalization opens up new markets, but new markets often require intimate local knowledge. Strategic decisions need to be made in the field. Leading brands from Mattel to eBay have faltered in China because they misread the legal and cultural environment.

Are your leaders prepared to succeed in an environment like this? One recent Harvard Business Review survey of senior executives says no:

77% of respondents said that frontline managers are important in helping their organization reach its business goals

33% of respondents said their organization’s frontline managers are competent in business-based decision making

12% of respondents said their currently invest sufficiently in the development of frontline managers

Working with organizations around the world, we have found that new managers—especially the millennials now stepping into management positions—are eager to embrace a level of responsibility and take on business challenges far earlier in their careers than previous employee generations.

Organizations are finding that their millennial managers approach work with a unique set of characteristics. More than other generations, they seek meaning in their work. They have a strong focus on collaboration. And for millennials, much of life happens online.

Further, millennials recognize that they’re not leading the enterprise. But they do want to be plugged in, in the know, and connected to their organization’s strategic purpose. They want to play an important role in achieving that purpose, and they want this acknowledged through training and development, opportunities to take on challenging and important assignments, and exposure to your organization’s senior leadership.

Organizations that encourage these new managers to assume leadership roles can see tremendous benefits:

1. An organization that’s more consistently focused on and aligned around strategy
2. The ability to respond more nimbly to market shifts and new opportunities
3. A more engaged workforce
4. Higher retention rates

What is your organization doing to support the development of these leaders?

Curious about Harvard Business Publishing’s program for New Leaders?

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