Regardless of the latest technological advances, the coolest innovations or the greatest leaders, organizational success can be boiled down to three fundamentals:
- Management isn’t inherited; it’s learned.
- Having and being a mentor is crucial.
- Accepting and cultivating the millennial generation will be the key to organizational effectiveness.
Learning to Manage
Far too often, leadership development workshops open with a review of the differences between a leader and a manager. The list of leadership qualities is full of adjectives about vision, innovation and collaboration. Conversely, the list of management qualities sounds more like a parts list for utilitarian operations, wrought with words like micromanagement, task completion and schedule enforcer. In reality, leadership and management go hand in hand. Can you be a leader if you can’t manage a schedule, complete a task or delegate resources? Clearly not. Good management is good leadership, and good leadership is good management.
Good management is about active and purposeful participation in the act of managing. Many of us rise in our organizations based on our technical expertise in our chosen field. For example, a talented and creative graphic designer is promoted to manager of design. In this new role, the creativity she used to perfect her role is no longer focused on design elements but on assigning the right job to the right designer, communicating priorities and organizing resources. Once she perfects the role of resource allocator, she may be promoted to art director. In this new role, she is responsible for overall resource allocation, budget forecasting, hiring, training and motivating staff – all skills not directly related to her entry into the field as a talented and creative mind.
Laurence Peter identified this process as the Peter Principle in his 1969 book with the same title. The essence of the Peter Principle is that without purposeful intervention, employees will rise to their level of incompetence. As the graphic designer rises in the corporate organizational hierarchy, she will eventually level out at the point where she is not able to master enough skills to be promoted to the next level.
Successful management requires active and purposeful focus on what it takes to be a manger. It’s not good enough just to be a key contributor; a manager must be able to catapult beyond subject mastery and learn the process and art of becoming an effective manager. Management is being actively engaged in the process of management and reflecting on one’s skills and gaps in management acumen.
Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The image of the lone manager or leader connotes great tragedy and the struggle and pressure of being in charge. However, outside of Hollywood movies, leaders are most effective when working with others. When we think of what effective management looks like, we often talk about collaboration, soliciting input, and building and working with great teams. The person sitting alone in a dark room the night before the big meeting is not reality and not the recipe for organizational success. Working together, soliciting feedback and taking advice is a key indicator for future success.
A great interview question when hiring for senior-level positions is, “How has your mentor shaped your success?” Interviewees with the strongest management and leadership potential answer the question flawlessly and without a single pause. The weakest managers have to think about how to answer the question, knowing they don’t have a mentor.
Not only do good managers have a mentor, but they are mentors. You can’t move up until someone is ready to take your place. Developing an ego that is able to accept and act on feedback is critical to good leadership. Developing an ego that lets others in on the “behind-the-scenes” tour and “sausage-making” allows them to understand the complexities that go into decision-making.
Google “millennial,” and see how often the results include negative comments. Any new generation entering a workforce is bound to be a disruptive influence on the way we do things. That’s the value of a new generation; that’s where change and innovation get a jump start. Millennials are not perfect. Gen Xers weren’t perfect, and the workers who returned from World War II were likely frustrated at the way the baby boomers were entering the job market.
Millennials need mentoring, and they need managing – just like the other generations did. Have you ever wondered out loud about a fact, and a millennial Googled the answer on his or her smartphone while you were scanning your brain? Ways of communicating, ways of searching for information and the intolerance of not having an immediate answer are skills that millennial leaders bring to the conference room. Rather than fighting the trend, older leaders should ride the wave and embrace the new generation. GenXers can become millennials’ mentors and prepare them for taking their place as they move up the organizational ladder.
The 21st century is bringing great challenges and also great opportunities for those engaged in the process of being a leader and a manager – and those open to new experiences and new ways of thinking.
Want to learn more? Join Peter for his session at the free upcoming TICE Virtual Conference: Leadership Training, the Driver of Organizational Performance.