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Opinion: Quality managing erodes self-centeredness

New Management, Part III

Posted online

Editor's note: This is the third in a series of three columns on "management epidemics" that plague organizations.

By far, the most difficult shift for a manager to make when moving from individual producer to manager of others involves a shift in values.

Shifting values of any kind is no easy feat. Even talking about values sometimes feels like lip service. Ask anyone who’s devoted time to defining organizational values only to see the answers posted on a wall with no real resulting behavior change. Despite these challenges, a manager will never be successful until they embrace a different set of values than was needed as an individual producer.

For producers, success depends on very self-centered values. Even for the best team players, a producer must prioritize achieving personal goals, contributing what’s expected of them and generally performing at their best as a team of one. It is no surprise, then, when making the shift to manager, an individual would struggle with letting go of these engrained values.

Instead they’re tasked with prioritizing the success of others, making others productive and investing time in other people that may not produce immediate payoff. Critical managerial activities like coaching, planning and developing do not produce the same instant gratification that producers are used to getting from hitting sales goals or completing explicit tasks. Shifting values can be a dramatic transition.

To add to the difficulty of this shift, a manager cannot simply tolerate “managerial activities,” but instead they must value and see them as mission-critical work. A manager should believe that making time for others is not only a necessary but the primary responsibility. A manager more interested in continuing to do producer-level work will clog the leadership pipeline. If they do not genuinely derive satisfaction from leading others, it does not matter how talented they are in an individual producer role; they have no business becoming a manager.

To support the shift required by the manager, an organization, from its very top, must also support and reward managers who do what managers should do.

For instance, a manager can’t be told to value managerial work but be compensated based on individual performance. This represents a gross misalignment.

Additionally, a manager must be trained on their required activities, including coaching others, holding others accountable, understanding different communication styles and motivating teams. These tasks cannot be considered second-tier “soft skills.” Gone are the days when technical training was enough. Today’s manager needs comprehensive leadership development. A 2017 study from Boston University, Harvard University and the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan revealed that training in self-awareness and soft skills produce a 256 percent return on investment, based on an average rate of 12 percent higher team productivity and retention.

One can draw the conclusion, then, that self-awareness training for future leaders and executives alike is worth the investment. Necessary value changes for managers will take place only if top leadership reinforces the need to shift beliefs, and if managers find success in their roles after that value shift.

Architect Christopher Alexander said, “No pattern is an isolated entity. Each pattern can exist in the world only to the extent that it is supported by other patterns.” As organizations, if we continue to fail to train future leaders in the skills, time allocation and values necessary to be effective leaders, we can expect only to see the same result: ill-prepared managers who struggle in their roles and leave bodies in the wake of their leadership.

Human resources are too important to leave to chance. It is beyond time to look at our promotional pipelines, find the clogs and work to clear them.

Caitlin Kissee is a Gallup-certified strengths coach and owner/founder of Propel People Development LLC in Springfield. She can be reached at caitlin@propelpeople.com.

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