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Developing New Leaders: Going Beyond Management Basics

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

All organizations expect their new, first-level managers to concentrate on the basics of management. But in today’s dynamic business environment, successful organizations are realizing that these new managers can make a more significant impact if they can also lead. Leadership at the new manager level means being able to establish a vision, inspire others, think strategically, respond rapidly to change, and take decisive action.

This requires a leadership mind-set, which requires behavioral changes that prepare managers to act decisively on strategic opportunities. There’s a clear difference between a management skillset and a leadership mind-set. Yet the need to equip new managers with managerial skills while at the same time developing their leadership capacity, seems like a nearly insurmountable challenge.

Fortunately, many organizations are taking a fresh approach to development programs for their new managers. This manager-as-leader approach aims at developing new managers who can both manage employees and act as strategic leaders.

Four Keys to New Leader Development

Development programs that build both management skills and leadership behaviors need to address several key considerations:

1. Integration: Learning must be tightly integrated into a new manager’s workflow.

2. Application: Learners must be able to put what they’re learning into immediate action.

3. Time: Learning must occur over time, so that the learner can absorb and eventually embody the behavior.

4. Relevance: The learning must be aligned with the organization’s strategy. The ability to understand and articulate an organization’s strategy, the willingness to engage and motivate the employees on their team, and the capacity to identify and quickly tackle emerging opportunities are vital elements of leadership.

Three Advantages of Virtual Learning

For today’s global organizations, we find the best approach for turning new managers into new leaders means going virtual. Virtual development factors in today’s demanding work style.

1. Learning is easily incorporated into day-to-day responsibilities. Self-paced learning means managers have flexibility over where and when they allocate time to learn.

2. Given the technology prowess of most of today’s new managers, the ability to learn via devices of all kinds comes second nature. They seamlessly move between an online lesson and an on-the-job practice.

3. Organizations can reach employees across geographies and time zones quickly and effectively.

Your new managers—there on the front lines with your workforce, your customers, your competitors, your markets—are critical for the near-term and long-term success of your organizations. They’re ready to manage, and they’re also ready to lead.

To take advantage of their enthusiasm, energy, and fresh ideas, you need to help new managers develop both their managerial skillset and their leadership mind-set. The results will be an organization more closely aligned around its strategy, more agile in responding to emerging opportunities, and better able to engage and retain its workforce.

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

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