Leaders Letter Newsletter

Leaders Letter 158 – Reshaping How You Think About Management, Leadership & Training

Dear leaders, I have recently delivered a couple of talks around management, leadership and how training does or doesn’t exist. 

Why? It is one big web that many businesses neglect based on time and ownership. 

The big lesson many tell me they take away is how we haven’t really set managers up to succeed, let alone take the journey from manager to leader. 

Some just get into the swing or groove of being a people manager and then are thrown into leadership roles. 

Here is how I break down the different steps within many careers: 

You go from: 

  • A team member to 
  • A manager to a manager of managers to 
  • A team lead (an example would be a Head of CRM within the Marketing Department) 
  • You then become a Department lead (Marketing Department Lead) 
  • A C-suite leader (this is often when you step up in a C-suite title (like CMO) and then potentially to 
  • A CEO, a founder or you can become an advisor 

Despite what many companies have with their levels system (Amazon have their own system from L0 to L12, Facebook and Apple also have similar systems and works best in engineering and for compensation) or tiers they aren’t supported in management development, the process is mapped out, and the requirements are supplied but the training or coaching is not there, you learn good and bad on the job. 

Or, you have to mimic (this is almost everyone’s default – to mimic good and bad managers – it’s how we are taught to fit in or stand out) those in management or leadership positions without understanding the context or some of the reasons behind it and you sink or swim without support until HR sends an email… 

Manager To Manager Of Managers 

The biggest leap in anyone’s career is going from a manager to a manager of managers, it is usually where you become a middle manager and potentially align when you became a team lead. 

I know from working in-house and agency side, when you take on a series of managers in your career, it’s not for the faint-hearted and becomes the time you have to juggle most issues whether that people’s problems or performance problems. It is often the phase you raise quickly or you stagnate in. A manager of managers is a specialist role most struggle most in this stage of their career. 

There is rarely ever a cheat sheet or a dummy guide to prepare you for the journey of being a manager of managers. As a wise person once said to me, “Being a team leader or department lead is time to buckle up and ride that daily rollercoaster of emotions and problems” 

Management To Leadership Is A HUGE leap 

I then suggest you have two phases, management and then leadership, management is often harder and where you are not supported or trained. 

From team member to even a Department Lead you are in the weeds of management, you are managing tasks, workloads and varying-sized HR issues, you are rarely trained apart from your on-the-job experiences and the lead from manager to manager-of-managers is often the biggest and most unprepared step you take on the management ladder. 

“Leadership” often sits at or above Department lead, this will depend on company size, operating models and how the management and leadership teams are determined – it isn’t always role and title assigned. 

You often get into a VP title and just about start to step out of the management grind and start to be able to become a leader, you are a step removed and driving the 100-1000ft and on or below the surface.  

Specialist & Expert 

You will notice I have included two critical roles here, the discipline specialist and the expert in the team or department, these in themselves have internal influencer traits and even some leadership characteristics but rarely are part of leadership. 

As referenced in leaders letters 146, it’s time to recognise the role of the expert and how essential they are and should be within your business. 

Middle Management and specialists/experts have been badly hit by the mass layoffs in big tech, the sad element here is this highlights the problem, managers are not being trained, poor internal practices have diminished the impact of management and when experts aren’t treated accordingly many lay off instead of having the second or third order effect of improving the company processes around T&D. 

Training Zones 

You then have to consider how and where people are trained, this is from discussions, my experience and reviewing how training courses are positioned. 

There is no surprise of the ed-tech platforms (from LinkedIn learning to udemy to Masterclass) raise over the last four years, smaller fee courses based on team members to managers of managers to charge back to the company while they are not supplied training or feel like they have to double down in specialist areas. This is where historically companies offer group training and group management sessions. 

Ways Some Tackle This 

  • I remember a company I worked with had a monthly dinner for middle management which supported the manager of managers area with some developmental plans and the leadership team would attend to help with alignment and get connected cross-functionally.  
  • Some large companies have say the top 200 managers as part of a group that receives updates and recommendations they could take onboard without the help or guidance for real training. Some actually enrol each manager in training every six to twelve months 
  • Some other large companies have internal training teams and performance coaches that improve individuals and departments 
  • A startup I spoke to recently has terms like schools where they are provided training modules and trainers would come in and it was optional to attend, many opting out for time issues. Adding in terms is a good step, adding in tutors and trainers is another good step, not enforcing training hurts the business and doesn’t improve management.  
Management & Leadership Explained Simply

Management has to be learnt, it has to be taught, life lessons and learning the hard ways can help but many middle managers fail because they aren’t ever given training until something goes wrong or their manager steps up and recommends training.  

Leadership is a unique set of skills, leadership can be taught to some people (not everyone is ready or have the foundations to become a leader) there is a small % of people who are moulded into leaders. 

Leaders are often born with that something and frequently those lacking one or two skills then go on to acquire the one or two skills to become a leader, how? Often they seek out great mentors and coaches. Others are given coaches to take them up the ranks and give them the ability to lead people, departments, business lines and then potentially whole businesses.  

Ask sports coaches, ask those who have served in the military or held high positions, often they say leaders are born and they almost always rise to the top in their fields. 

This week’s focus actions are a number of steps to improve managers, management track and build a set of leaders: 

  • Look at these phases of management and leadership and assess where training is taking place and where management training and exec coaching should be available 
  • Place a lead in charge of rolling out training (or place a management pod on leading training roll out) especially to first-time managers and then managers  of managers 
  • Add in the next 1:2:1 and help to uncover what training is best for your team members 
  • Senior leaders – even if you are in the c-suite it is up to you to own your development track, add into your next 1:2:1 and ask for feedback on which training you could benefit from or where there are gaps 
  • Include management and leadership in skip meetings – the most impressive managers know how to influence the two to three phases below them
  • Sponsor – Are there natural leaders within your org or department who would benefit from leadership training or coaching?  

Thanks and have a good week thinking about assessing training and development across your team, department or business. 

Danny Denhard 

PS Remember company culture is shaped by good and bad managers, with training and development you can improve people’s performance and the company’s performance leading to connected and cross-functional teams. The better the training the better the follow-up coaching and leadership should be. 

Friday Focus

Friday Focus – 13th November

In the second instalment of Focus Friday, I recommend five actionable tips around company culture, the Hybrid Office, preplanning training and organising an internal conference.

  1. Remote company culture has reduced collaboration and communication between strong links in businesses. Encourage more collaboration and informal chat around projects and themes.
    Read how remote work has impacted company culture.  
  2. With Christmas Parties and traditional annual celebrations being limited or removed this year.
    Encourage a Secret Santa or present exchange. This will boost morale and encourage people to get to know one another. 
  3. Hybrid Office Preparation – Start preparing plans for the Hybrid Office. Work with your colleagues to understand when they will need to be in the office, when off-sites will likely need to happen, when team onsite’s can happen safely and what tech tools and software you will need to improve the experience
  4. Plan Training – Something that is always discussed and added into a budget line but rarely is planned out effectively. Your junior to mid-level staff will have limited exposure to planning, budget management and forecasting, set up training for these staff and create a culture of sharing important business skills. This not only improves team connections and a culture of sharing and training it increases the quality of the next level of management coming through your organisation.
  5. Introduce Management Pods – In this week’s blog, I suggested a different concept in tackling poor management team connections and a way to develop collections ties and departmental connections.

If you have any tips you would like to share or contribute to, happily email me below