Great leaders aren’t born. They are made. And all it takes to become a stronger leader is the mastery of specific skills essential to success in leadership – skills that can turn winless teams into renowned champions; unmotivated departments into engines of creativity; and money losers into market leaders. Manager-focused training is necessary as a pedagogic process of exposing managers into the dynamics of transformational leadership. Effective bosses can therefore be rebuilt with the right leadership knowledge that nurtures people’s capabilities.
How organizations can literally be transformed into learning organizations is through the use of leadership excellence courses for managers and supervisors, whether newly hired or promoted from within. The erudite professor, Dr. Michael A. Roberto, a Harvard Business School-educated instructor and leadership consultant for Fortune-500 companies, is known to offer Leadership Excellence Courses with lectures filled with case studies and lessons from leaders in business, politics and the military, as well as a range of tools and skills bosses can put into their careers. Professor Roberto’s courses offer a focused look at particular aspects of leadership, including major models of leadership, the intricate nature of the change process, and the strengths of creativity and innovation.
The challenge for companies lies in creating better bosses who drive continuous improvement, inspire loyalty, and speak employee engagement—all with a leaner workplace and more competitive economic environment. Books on being a better boss have also proliferated. Four recent books—Good Boss, Bad Boss; Being the Boss; From Bud to Boss; and You Can’t Fire Everyone—explore the challenges and opportunities of being an effective, competent leader in today’s more collaborative era.
Better bosses listen to their employees and endeavor to grasp important concepts such as sharing credit and putting the needs of their direct reports first, and are effective communicators. The former New York City Mayor Rudolf William Louis “Rudy” Giuliani explains in his book, Leadership, with practical expertise that, “an effective [boss] is one capable of summoning every principle about leadership. Surround yourself with great people. Have beliefs and communicate them. See things for yourself. Set an example. Stand up to bullies. Deal with first things first. Loyalty is the vital virtue. Prepare relentlessly. Under-promise and over deliver. Don’t assume a damn thing.” Learning the art and science of being a manager can sharpen these skills. There are some leading leadership development consulting firms such as Advanced Leadership Consulting, Jackson Leadership Systems, Lee Hecht Harrison, North Group Consultants, Senn Delaney, and Vantage Leadership that can be helpful with leadership skills development, presentation training, executive coaching and classes in building business acumen.
Also, to assist managers better drive results, project management skills are essential, when managers treat their work as a project—with a beginning, middle and an end—and understanding, who the key stakeholders are, what you are trying to deliver and establishing clear milestones. The more fitting approach is to cultivate trust among your direct reports and give them clear directions and regular feedback. Managers should continuously learn how to be more effective and how to manage themselves, their networks and their teams. Success in leadership comes from invariably and relentlessly assessing progress on all three fronts. The way an effective leader or manager set priorities comes not just from whether or not you are a strategic thinker but whether you have the right set of relationships. Effective leaders become savvy in building the right strategic network in order to have access to the insights and information of what’s going on inside the company or in the broader world.
Leaders who are good at defining the future are leaders who literally know how to build networks with people who are diverse, who expose them to different perspectives and who bridge them to world’s they are not normally connected with. Because only with information can an effective leader begins to read the weak signals and the trends that a leader needs to be responding to. The human resources department has a role to play to help managers by guiding them through the political culture and its players as well as helping them recognize the typical conflicts in organizations based on ego and the other based on differing points of view. Managing differing points of view is what ultimately drives constructive change.
The Balancing Act in Leadership
Robert I. Sutton, professor of management, science and engineering at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, best known for his book, The No-Asshole Rule, explains beyond strategic effectiveness, many people skills are required to be successful leader. Sutton puts into plain language an undeniable fact: the modern workplace is beset with assholes; and argues that “assholes”—those who deliberately make co-workers feel bad about themselves and who focus their aggression on the less powerful—poison the work environment, decrease productivity, induce qualified employees to quit and therefore are detrimental to businesses, regardless of their individual effectiveness. He also makes the solution plain: they have to go. Direct and punchy, Sutton uses accessible language and a bevy of examples to make his case, providing tests to determine if you are an asshole (and if so, advice for how to self-correct), a how-to guide to surviving environments where assholes freely roam and a carefully calibrated measure, the “Total Cost of Assholes,” by which corporations can assess the damage.
Human beings in general find it hard to recognize their weaknesses. The more incompetent we are, the less aware we are. Sutton argues, bosses can become better bosses when they are aware of their shortcomings and train themselves to adopt what he calls “the mind-set of a great boss”. Having covered that, the balancing act in leadership, “call it Lasorda’s law: Being just assertive enough, while not easy for any boss, is one of the most important features of a good one. And it isn’t simply a matter of arriving at some correct calibration and then sticking with it. Rather, the best bosses get the balance right on any given day, and in myriad interactions with their followers, peers, and own bosses”. In other words, “managing is like “holding a dove in your hand. Hold it tightly and you kill it. Hold it too loosely and you lose it” (The Artful Dodger, Tommy Lasorda). The rule is a part of being a good manager is not ever trusting that you’re a good manager. Humility is a hallmark of a good boss. Bosses who take personal responsibility when something goes wrong with their projects—in essence, who take the blame—and, conversely, who give other people credit for successes, are the most respected bosses with the happiest teams. When a boss thinks of himself as an individual contributor or a main unit of work and thinking of people who work as work resources to help with that goal, it is easy to get frustrated. An effective boss has to think of himself or herself in terms of being a teacher and a guide that contributes to the team to answer questions.
Managing Successful Transitions
Another notable work by learning consultant Kevin Eikenberry and trainer/management coach Guy Harris, titled: From Bud to Boss: Secrets to a Successful Transition to Remarkable Leadership, offers pertinently valuable knowledge about the three key transition areas—of relationships, of skills, and of perspective—for managers promoted to supervising former co-workers. The premise of their work is built on the rationale that for a manager promoted to carry on successfully as a leader in such situation, flexibility and humility is key. Developing the appropriate cultural vision with a mission statement that sees the company’s success as being driven by open communication, flexibility, teamwork and camaraderie, equity and respect and achievement is critical.
The use of annual surveys and training can be helpful to ensure that managers understand they are expected to abide by that cultural vision. And continual communication is essential and employees are also encouraged to initiate job-related conversations with the managers and vice versa. Evidently, strong values that work for small companies, also work for larger organizations. An effective manager should have attained the ‘mind-set of a manager’ through effective time management, making tough decisions, leveraging resources at the peer level and above, interviewing skills, coaching and setting strategic direction.
Management Training vis-à-vis Changing Business Expectations
Today, expectations for business are so much higher which makes it harder becoming a good manager. There is also much more diversity with different generations and emerging markets making management training that much more important. The young generation of today is more fluid and thinks openly about radical career moves. The university professor of management, science and engineering at Stanford University, Robert I. Sutton has successfully argued through his works that good bosses are the ones who distinguish themselves through empathy and generosity; and whose management styles are inspiring instead of stifling. Unselfishness is one of the cardinal rules for being an effective manager. Ultimately, an effective manager will know what techniques and approaches work best—and those you hope to lead will tell you exactly that. Much of your ability to get people to do what they have to do is going to depend on what they perceive when they look at you and listen to you. They need to see someone who is stronger than they are, but human, too.
Kenday Samuel Kamara, Ph.D.: A scholar in international development and back-office administration with cumulative years of experience in development sector management and peace research with advanced degrees in organizational management and decision sciences. Had consulted extensively in West Africa, Europe and the United States. Career highlights include: administrator expert for microfinance development in West Africa; strategy and policy advice at institutional and civil society level; capacity building (training workshops, seminars); educator with Walden University, the Graduate School of World Problems as well as the Pan African University; peer review experience (with Global Integrity) on integrity and corruption perception indicator scorecards; impact analyses on environment, social, economic and energy issues; strong knowledge of European Commission technical assistance procedures, planning and implementation; an accredited international development consultant with the CANADEM Civilian Roster of Consultants and the Intota Network of International Development Experts; and a Salzburg Fellow (as scholar of the Kellog Foundation). Have authored and co-authored a number of books as well as a number of published essays on various management and development issues.