One of my clients has asked me to create a potential set of training and development activities for a group of mid-level managers. This is a healthcare organization and most of these folks are skilled in their professions (nurse, social worker, etc…) but have had no formal management or leadership training. The organization has needs – and goals – to improve managerial competence, increase feedback & accountability, and create a stronger collaboration and team culture at all levels. As with all such training activities, there are limits and constraints that involve time and resources. For example, there is a limited amount of time that people can be pulled off their jobs for classroom training or peer group discussions. Individual coaching for 25-30 managers is too costly. Therefore, the challenge that we are facing is to determine what 6-8 topics should/can be addressed in short bursts (1-2 hours of training/peer group discussion) to build a foundation for leadership.
So if you were faced with such a leadership development challenge, what topics would you include in the training plan? Use the comment box below or email me your thoughts. Here are several recent articles about core leadership competencies that have helped me to create a far too long draft list of topics.
BALANCING HARD AND SOFT (BEHAVIORAL) SKILLS
The Skills Most Leaders Don't Have (Inc. Nov. 2012) makes the common distinction between hard skills (occupational skills such as Finance or Nursing) and soft skills or competencies which are defined as “the behavioral ways in which people go about their occupational tasks” (collaboration is a good example). The author suggests that Leadership requires its own set of hard skills (i.e. the clarity to make timely and informed decisions; the capability to define priorities and goals). It also suggests that behavioral skills such as holding others accountable to their commitments or working with and for others are equally important.
While I don’t see the need to break out Leadership Competencies into hard/soft skills I do agree wholeheartedly with the author that:
“Unfortunately, many leaders fail to embrace leadership responsibilities
and instead busy themselves with non-leadership tasks - the work their
teams should be doing…The more your role involves leadership, the more
your job must focus on blending the occupational and the behavioral, the
technical and the interpersonal, the hard and the soft.If you cannot
achieve this internal balance, your organization will suffer a similar lack of
equilibrium...This balance can be exceeding difficult, because many people
define themselves by their ability to be experts in their occupational skills
while viewing behavioral skills as secondary or incidental. In this way,
especially for leaders, traditional “soft” skills are harder to get right.”
LACK OF MANAGERIAL COURAGE & CHEATING FREE-RIDERS
One of the topics I know will definitely be included in my training recommendations is Accountability. Few organizations/leaders I have worked with get this right at first. Most avoid holding people accountable to performance expectations or goals because they feel that it will involve conflict or confrontation. Some go to the other extreme and create micro-managing cultures, looking for and punishing every mistake. In One Out of Every Two Managers Is Terrible at Accountability (HBR Blogs) Authors Overfield and Kaiser say, “by far and away the single-most shirked responsibility of executives is holding people accountable. No matter how tough a game they may talk about performance, when it comes to holding people's feet to the fire, leaders step back from the heat.”
The article provides possible reasons for this lack of managerial courage including my favorite, “at a time when talent retention and engaging employees is de rigueur we get silly advice to management such as, "don't give employees a hard time about their weaknesses; celebrate their strengths." The article goes on to describe research about “cooperative contributors”(high performers) versus “cheating free-riders” (you guessed it) and points out...
“Groups of cooperative contributors outperform groups of cheating free-riders. Thus, it is no surprise that groups in which free-riders are punished for their loafing outperform groups in which they are not. The interesting finding in all of this is that the person who does the punishing actually pays a personal price in terms of lost social support. In a nutshell, group performance requires that someone plays the role of sheriff, but it is a thankless job.”
Even if the job of holding poor performers accountable is thankless, as the authors point out, it is key to organizational health. “The unfortunate consequence, however, is that no matter what short-term costs an upwardly ambitious manager avoids by not playing the sheriff, they are overshadowed in the long run by the creation of a culture of mediocrity and lackluster organizational performance. Add this up over time and across departments and business units and the aggregate costs of neglecting accountability can be staggering for everyone.”
Delegation…Accountability…Collaboration - what other core topics you would include in a leadership training and development plan?