With the roll of a die, you can turn your managers into great leaders

Written by
Changeboard Team

09 Sep 2010

09 Sep 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Identifying great and poor leaders

Who do you think of when you’re asked to name one? Charismatic billionaire Richard Branson maybe? Or how about tough-talking Lord Alan Sugar? Perhaps the phrase ‘great leadership’ makes you think of sporting icons like England cricket captain Andrew Strauss?

So now you have a great leader in mind, try and picture a bad one. Does acerbic X-factor judge Simon Cowell spring to mind? You may not be too surprised to learn that a poll of 5,000 UK adults, surveyed by One Poll, showed that Cowell was a very unpopular choice when we asked which celebrity boss people would most like to work for.

It would seem then that people find it quite easy to identify the traits which they believe make people successful leaders, as well as having strong opinions on what makes a poor one.

No one size fits all

CMI recently questioned managers to find out what they thought they were best at. Of the 2,158 polled, almost half (44 per cent) said they excelled at managing people. When CMI put that perception to the test, the Results strongly contradicted the perceptions. Just 14 per cent of the 6,056 people who used the diagnostic tool excelled at people management whereas many more were good at getting Results (41 per cent).

These Results lead us to ask some big questions. What exactly makes a good leader and, as a manager or employer, how do you spot management potential? More importantly, how can you play a part in helping to develop the next generation of excellent leaders and turn the issue of substandard management around?

Unfortunately, it’s not the case that ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to managing and leading. Management roles vary hugely from sector to sector and organisation to organisation and 21st century managers need to possess a variety of transferrable skills and abilities to stay at the top of their game. Today’s leaders need to be good all-rounders and there are four key strengths they need to possess in particular. These are the ability to provide direction and communicate the vision of the organisation to their teams, achieve Results, work well with other people and, finally, manage themselves.

How do you develop your leaders?

To develop strong managers and leaders, you need to begin by identifying those who have management potential and who can, with the right level of training, develop these four areas in particular. There are no tricks of the trade for spotting potential. You will need to establish employees’ aptitude and desire for leadership roles through open discussion. This is where an honest and communicative relationship with those you manage can pay dividends. It’s important to open up channels of communication so that those individuals with leadership ambitions can be open with you about their aspirations.

Good leaders are made, not born, and the skills that make a good leader can be learnt, where there is willing. The responsibility falls to you to ensure you provide adequate training for managers and potential managers from their first day to the time they move on. Given the right opportunities, everyone has the potential to develop an aptitude for management, so begin by giving those individuals who show potential small leadership tasks. For example, you might ask someone to lead a small project or be more involved in communicating the vision of your organisation to other staff.

Portfolio of transferrable skills

Whatever development opportunities you provide, there needs to be a strong emphasis throughout on the growth of transferrable skills. The best leaders are those who can adapt to new situations and Challenges encountered during their careers. A portfolio of transferrable skills is essential, and you should emphasise this to those under your guidance, wherever possible.

As well as on-the-job and external training, learning from others can be an invaluable part of the development process for up and coming managers. Consider putting a mentoring scheme in place, if one doesn’t already exist, where those with leadership potential are given the opportunity to spend time with senior colleagues.

So now you’ve got a small batch of excellent potential leaders who are developing well. But what do you do when it comes to tackling weaknesses among senior staff? Should they be absolved of management duties altogether until they improve? 

Inadequately skilled and inexperienced managers

63 per cent of managers in UK organisations say they had no management training before taking up a senior post and just one in five managers hold any type of formal management qualification. It is little wonder then that this has given rise to a swathe of inadequately skilled and inexperienced managers. The good news is there is much that you can do to help individuals play to their strengths, and work on any weaker areas.

The easiest method for improving areas of management weakness is to encourage the individual manager concerned to make an assessment of their own performance, so they can recognise for themselves what is going wrong. Once the development areas have been identified, you can encourage the employee in question to help you come up with the solutions. In most cases, those managers who are encouraged to reflect on their own performance will, with support, be in a good position to identify what type of help they might benefit from.

Coaching and support

One of the best ways to assist this process is by offering a coach, either from another member of staff or someone brought in specially, who can spend time with the individual in question to identify the trouble spots and develop appropriate solutions.

Ultimately, the commitment to improve has to come from the individual. Managers need to get serious about their own development, play to their strengths and work on any weaker areas. This can’t happen without support, however. If the opportunities to improve aren’t forthcoming, and the assistance offered by employers is below par, then all but the strongest managers will flounder. Turning the management profession around isn’t about creating an army of Richard Bransons, but we don’t want a proliferation of Simon Cowells either.

Where do your strengths lie? Take the test

To encourage UK managers to consider their strengths and weaknesses, as well as how they come across to colleagues, CMI has launched a unique online application. By visiting www.comparethemanager.com and answering 12 quick-fire questions, managers will find out where their strengths lie, as well as any weaker areas they need to work on.