What can we do about a manager who won’t lead? I was asked this question during a large conference recently. (I love doing the live Q&As at these things).
First, let me set the stage as to why the question was framed this way. We had been talking about “making rising stars shine”, those who might become part of a succession or executive continuity plan; the development of high potential candidates inside a company. Included with the presentation were some ideas about the key distinctions between management and leadership. In summary, I had said:
I had stated that companies must decide between creating and sponsoring a management development program or a leadership development one. Do you want to build managers or leaders? It’s a key strategic choice and one that is valid depending on the job grades, corporate cultures, and industry specifics.
Back to the Question
What to do about a manager who won’t lead? This implies that the company has an expectation of its managers to be leaders. Personally, I prefer that mindset. Here are your options.
Dive In – Begin making proactive inquiries as to what the manager is doing exactly. Track behaviors and outcomes. I was told this person has been quoted as saying “I just want to do the work”. It sounds like they were a bad choice for Manager. While they might have the skill set to make the process happen and get deliverables out, the statement would suggest a big disconnect with any notion of leadership, desire or insight.
Perhaps this person was thrust into the role due to a battlefield promotion. The job came open and they were the brightest bulb on the string. I mean no disrespect as this is the common practice in many places. However, making this kind of promotion often serves to simply snuff out the high producer. When asked to oversee other employees, the circumstances unwind. The top producer is now just a tyrant of a boss.
Make Assessments – Get specific about what the expectations are and find ways to develop the skills and behaviors of leadership you want your unit leads to use. This is a personal task. Each candidate must be evaluated for specific strengths and weaknesses.
Stakeholders need to get involved, sharing their views of the situation. A continuous feedback loop including those stakeholders must be developed and used.
Coaching – The person needs coaching about the role and the expectations. Whether the coaching is done internally or with external resources, a coach can come alongside the person to work through the process for building awareness, designing a growth plan, running the stakeholder feedback, and getting results.
Last but Not Least – You may need to make a change. This person may simply not be suited for the role, especially when the corporate expectation is to provide leadership, not just management. The initial selection to place the candidate in the role might just be a bust. That happens.
The offset to consider is the impact on the rest of the team. Will perpetuating this person’s role while hopefully getting some development coaching be good enough to avoid burning out the rest of the team? Of should you act more swiftly to vacate the position and select a candidate who aspires to lead more than manage?
Helping Rising Stars Shine
It’s not easy to design and operate an internal program to groom leadership talent. Whether you have to pluck unit leads from the ranks or supply a pipeline of talent that gets exposed to solid leadership development (most smaller companies cannot afford such luxury), grooming your next wave of managers and leaders is no small task.
If you would like to hear more about ways to design a high potential development program, use the link below.