Not too long ago I began a series of management classes with a small group of relatively new managers. Some had been managers for a few years, others for only a few months.
After the customary introductions I said "Okay, we're going to be together for six training sessions. What do you want to get out of these sessions? What do you want to learn?" Here was their list:
- How to be more direct / less direct when appropriate
- How people want to be talked to
- To be aware of the positives and negatives of relying on "gut instinct"
- How to motivate our staffs
- How to use our strengths more effectively
- How to prevent our weaknesses from becoming a liability
- How to help other people adjust to our new positions
- How to be more purposed in our speech
- How to deal with it when others disagree with us
I had written their wish list on a flip chart. When they were done I stepped back and scanned it over. Then I turned to them and said, "You know, if someone were to walk in the room right now and had missed our discussion on these items, they would probably say 'what a bunch of touchy-feely nonsense.'"
But then I added, "Yet isn't this a key part of what becoming a manager is all about?"
From the book True Leaders by Bette Price and George Ritcheske, we read: "Gone are the days when a company's success could be measured by profits alone. Today, a successful company must balance human values with economic values. Managers who lead with an awareness of this convergence of people and profits seek significance in their own lives as well as financial success. They are true leaders."
Organizations succeed only if they can create and sustain a competitive advantage. What many senior execs tend to forget is that businesses are comprised of people, not just budgets or profit and loss statements.
Thriving companies create conditions for people to take responsibility and ownership of their work. They teach good work management practices, and they ensure people are taught how to work well with each other. Then, with those conditions in place, the budgets and profit and loss statements tend to iron themselves out.
One good example of this is David C. Novak, Chairman, President, and CEO of YUM! Brands, the company that owns Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell, Long John Silver's, and A&W All-American Food. According to the international directory of business biographies, Novak is characterized as wearing many hats: those of captain, friend, mentor, politician, and team player.
When he took over as CEO, Novak focused on three main goals: correct management problems left over from the company's previous ownership; increase competitiveness; capitalize on opportunities for multi-branding.
Although Novak is described as fiercely competitive, his first goal was getting management working together. The results paid off. He took an atmosphere of distrust and slumping profits and turned it around to focused teamwork with consistent growth.
Yet equipping managers and leaders for autonomy, better teamwork, and ownership often requires a culture change. Three or four years is not uncommon for such change, but it's always faster when those at the top jump into the new paradigm with both feet - as did Novak.
Those familiar with the book Good to Great by Jim Collins knows that Collins emphasizes getting the right people on the bus. But keeping those people requires another skill set, one set forth by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence. In large part, a company achieves sustained competitive advantage by engaging their people appropriately.
With this in mind, I was impressed with my managerial students. Their list of what they wanted from our six training sessions falls right in line with accepted wisdom.
Later, I got to thinking about what I wish more execs would do for their managers. If I were to make my own list, I wish they would equip their managers with the following balanced approach:
- A thorough understanding of the organization's business model and strategy
- A precise understanding of where the company profit centers are
- The power to translate company strategy into practical actions and plans - so that the manager can capitalize on the unique talents of his/her team without interference from executives
- Open, objective communication paths to bring up potential gaps in knowledge or skill that might impede success
- An atmosphere in which learning about human nature and caring about employees is second nature
I could add more, but that's a good start. The common thread is true empowerment - and interpersonal skills is fundamental to that.
The bottom line is that it's not a bunch of touchy-feely nonsense. Hire good people, equip them with good interpersonal skills, show them where the company could be if it's successful, and then get out of their way. They'll make it happen.