What does effective leadership look like? Is it about leaving a legacy, or leading one? True leaders learn to involve others, use their influence to help them grow and inspire them to make great decisions and to be of service to others. Leadership starts from the top down, setting great examples by role modeling exemplary behaviour, not just talking about it and expecting it of others. But while most companies focus on the C-suite, there is a demographic, the middle or front-line managers, that are getting left behind. If C-suite execs are the brain of the organization, middle managers are its bloodline, they connect it to the heart, the people that keep it beating strong and healthy, they are the pipeline of future talent that help operationalize executive decisions
Today, organizations are facing rapid change, it’s hard to keep up with evolving technology, and an even more rapidly-evolving and diverse consumer. Outdated leadership habits are blocking the healthy flow of ideas. Senior leaders aren’t always ready to role model good behaviour. Often, they find themselves role-playing, trying to figure out their own responsibilities. We need to restore the healthy flow of ideas by bringing middle managers and senior leaders together to define a new way of leading through on-the-job mentorship and coaching opportunities that support leaders, and especially the middle manager in their formative years.
Why is this important?
Old-fashioned leadership habits focus on stubborn, iron-fist authoritative management styles are seldom inclusive. They simply don’t work. They discourage learning, frown upon mistakes and failure, and usually favor the louder, stronger personalities focused on getting things done at all cost. The result, senior managers don’t involve the less-experienced recruits and the much-needed transfer of knowledge is blocked. When junior leaders eventually move into the C-suite, they are ill-prepared to make a positive impact and find themselves lacking the confident behaviour to lead and inspire others.
Let’s consider the example of Alex, a senior leader who’s busted everything to get to the C-level position, working long hours and making personal sacrifices. In the process, he’s failed to build trustworthy, genuine connections with coworkers. Sarah, a talented front-line manager eyeing the C-suite herself, wants to support her team. She’s eager to forge alliances with the C-suite and prove her capabilities, but Alex’s bad leadership habits and unrealistic expectations set the wrong example: he extends little to no trust, micromanages her and prevents any interaction with senior leaders. What’s worse, he doesn’t even know he’s doing this. In turn, Sarah takes out her frustration on her own team, failing to lead by example or inspire in them any sense of leadership. The environment is toxic, dull and demotivating.
Without active succession planning, the organization will implode. Add to this an exodus of great talent that will do little to attract new new recruits. The prognosis leaves little hope and a total shutdown is all but imminent. But we can make a healthy change.
First, we can start by encouraging individuals to contribute, to be engaged in their own professional growth by introducing cross-organizational and multi-generational mentorship and coaching opportunities that pair up senior with junior leaders in on-the-job shadowing. We can encourage senior leaders to enable junior ones to facilitate meetings, participate in the decision-making, and share their input openly and without the fear of retribution. We can also mentor them to make better decisions by challenging their ideas and work towards better outcomes.
We can also invest in providing real-time, on-the-job outside coaching to help push leaders outside of their comfort zones, monitor them and provide feedback on their progress, while allowing them time to reflect on their own growth.
Finally, we can strive to establish a safe environment where learning can take place at both levels: the executive mentor remains open, trusting, and willing to teach the less experienced middle manager mentee, but still remain flexible enough to learn different perspectives.
When we have this open flow of ideas, diversity, creativity and innovation thrive, the heart and brain can function in unison and we can start breaking bad leadership habits and replace them with ones that actually work and keep us moving us forward.