The Leadership Pipeline, a book published in 2001, by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter and James Noel talked for the first time the important distinctions for different levels of leadership, with a basic message that with each step up the corporate ladder, the most successful people add appropriate skills for the new level. But in addition to skills, they also change two other critical ways; they change their perspective on what was important (what work they valued) and they change what they spend their time on.
Unfortunately, most people do not receive the type of training, mentoring or coaching that would help them understand how they need to take on new skills, views and values, and most importantly let go of the previous ones from the previous position. As a result, many, companies operate at a level of success much lower than need be. In this process each level of managers holds down the level below them because they don’t fully make the mental and emotional transition to each new level – I term this “down ward compression” like having a hierarchy of managers sitting on top of you and literally squashing you! Consequently, these companies have a weak leadership pipeline filled with underperforming managers and can never get to the root cause of underperformance. Think about it. How many times have you worked with a senior manager/vice president/president who has loved to micromanage and get into the details instead of building an inspiring vision?
The authors suggest that the first step to this change is for an individual to move from an Individual Contributor to Manager. This is often a big struggle and a key transition point in ones career and they have identified some of the key areas of transition below.
Key Transition Areas
· Most important is to learn to see and appreciate the value of managerial work; believe that making time for others, planning and coaching are mission critical to success.
· Shift from doing work to getting work done through others
ü Let go of being the high performer and learn to manage and develop others to high performance.
ü Reallocate time – less time on individual work and more time on managing others so they can perform effectively.
· See oneself as part of the management structure, not its adversary.
· Build social connections with upper management, direct reports, and external people such as supplies, customers, etc. This leads to broader thinking and a wider perspective.
Warning Signs of Incomplete Transition
· High stress and overwhelm among direct reports.
ü Managers view questions from their people as interruptions.
ü Fixes mistakes rather than coaching others to resolve their own issues.
ü Doesn’t take ownership for their peoples’ problems, failures, or successes.
However, in my years of practice as an internal and external OD consultant I have often found that while there is realization in a lot of people that they appear to be struggling with such transition, they do not have the understanding of why the struggle and therefore ways of helping themselves out of such situations. After going through module 2, I realise that there is a connection to neuroscience that would help managers tremendously in making such changes. I focused on four “manager” competencies that we try and build in managers as they transition from being individual contributors to managers and have tried and connect them to what we have learnt. After several discussions, it looks like I may end up creating better materials for successful transitions.
1. Interpersonal Awareness: Interpersonal Awareness is the desire to understand other people. It is the ability to accurately hear and understand spoken as well as unspoken or partly expressed thoughts, feelings, and concerns of others. This competency allows the person to understand the reasons for another’s behaviour, even when the behaviour is subtle or complex.
The successful way to build good interpersonal awareness is to understand oneself better. As a manager it is critical for one to know and understand at what point negative emotions are taking over the pre-fontal cortex to impede decision-making. Once that sensitivity and control is built, the manager has complete understanding of when and what “trips” him or her and has a built a high degree of self - awareness.
Enhancing mindfulness is another way to build better interpersonal awareness. This will help to train oneself to have a conversation with a direct report with full and complete attention. This means every interaction is without distraction and making the other person feel you care and you are a 100% invested in the conversation. This helps in building the relationship. Statements such as “Managers view questions from their people as interruptions” (when they struggle to make the transition)– are heard only because the manager is not mindful of the fact that the relationship needs investment, coaching and guidance. Often the managers Pre Frontal cortex (decision engine of the brain) is flooded with issues that make them highly distracted, irritable and unpredictable. Mindfulness training also helps in self-reflection to help the amygdala get smaller, and as a result the “hot buttons” get lower in frequency.
2. Impact and Influence Impact and Influence is the ability to generate support from others to achieve desired business outcomes. It also involves taking advantage of opportunities to make a difference and have an impact. It is always planned and strategic—never random. When used well, the intended outcome of this competency is the creation of goodwill, trust, and respect while motivating people to want to follow you even when they don’t have to.
To help a manager attain this competency and imbibe it as a behavior that will help move any business agenda forward, it would help managers to understand the Integrate Model. The brain is a master integrator and one thing leads to another. To be able to take stakeholders, peers and superiors along and achieve a desired goal it is critical to understand that the brain in its default mode likes to Minimise Danger and Maximise Reward. Which means red flags go off when the brain senses danger/ a negative outcome.
Lets take the example of a manager who needs to deliver a business outcome: To get a sales team to deliver a 15% margin on sales for the year. If this is a target that has not been met before and the market is tough, fear-based emotions immediately kick in. Thoughts in the team will range from “will I be able to make it” to “will I get fired?” If the manager has the understanding of the integrate model and that these negative emotions need to move to a thinking – feeling stage and then to a stage of self regulation, he or she will to be able to positively influence the team. He will have to instil trust (focus on maximizing reward – what success the team can expect) and plan communications in a way that feels approachable to the team for them to be able to voice their concerns. Additionally, the manager can help move the team to Thinking – Feeling by having a discussion based on data and facts, using more logic and reasoning to work on how and the best ways one can achieve the margin. This can be brain storming, getting to a consensus decision where everyone feels like they have been made a stakeholder in the decision. The final stage in the Integrate Model is Emotional Regulation. Which is the stage where team members become conscious of their behaviour and actions and what impact they may have on others. The manager can help the team reach this stage by giving them continuous constructive feedback and positive strokes. This will help the team understand the right behaviours to exhibit to get to the goal.
3. Developing People
Developing People is the ability that requires discussing development needs and career strategy with employees and providing them with opportunities and visibility as well as advice and coaching. It is the manager's sincere interest in growing talent for the sake of the employee as well as the organisation. This competency also includes coaching the employee through the on-boarding process, on their job performance, giving feedback and suggesting corrective action as appropriate to the situation and need.
Understanding Emotional Theory and the critical role of self-reflection in helping one to become aware of one’s emotion is important to be a good people developer. The manager needs to understand the brain in the sequence of understanding the situation, paying attention to the situation, appraising the situation and then responding to it.
I can think of a great example when this sequence can be used in a manager employee conversation. Very often in organisations, development conversations become promotion and compensation conversations. Employees often feel that the only way to get ahead in an organization is by way of promotion, which means more pay. Development conversations actually are quite the opposite. They take a long-term view of the person’s aspirations and his or her skills, competencies and experiences and focuses the manager engage in a conversation on areas of strengths which need to be maintained and the development areas to be focused on for the next career stage. When employees do not understand the focus of a development conversation and a conversation starts to get derailed (moving to more short terms needs), the manager needs to take a step back to understand the situation – what does the employee really want and why is the agenda different from mine? How can I help this employee get back on a development conversation versus a promotion conversation? How shall I help him or her look at the situation he /she is facing right now differently? (appraise the situation) What is the best way I should behave at this time? Shall I be calm and supportive or tough? What are the implications to my relationship with this person if I’m tough with him or her? (emotional regulation). When a manager has got enough practice of this sequence and is able to get to a do this with ease, one can safely say that this is a manager who has strong competence in developing people.
4. Setting Goals & Expectations Setting Goals and Expectations is the ability of a manager to establish specific, measurable goals and commitments with his or her direct reports. It is recognizing the importance of making performance discussions more results focused and emphasizing measurable outcomes as well as how they are achieved. It also includes putting processes and systems in place to assess progress against individual and team goals.
It is critical for managers to understand how the brain is linked to setting expectations. If a manager is clear about what he/she expects from an employee and has been able to establish specific and measurable goals with appropriate coaching to guide the employee successfully to meet the expectations then the employee feels motivated (has a dopamine rush) and feels charged to go ahead to another challenge. However if the manager has not clearly specified goals and has not had discussions on the best way to achieve the goals and then expressed disappointment at the employees performance, this causes decreased dopamine levels, increased stress and a downward spiral leading to a demotivated and a disengaged employee. The link between creating a motivated employee and a manager’s ability to set clear goals and expectations is linear and highly correlated and there can be no two ways about how critical a competency this is for a manager.
In summary, it is clear that individual contributors transitioning to be people managers need to understand that a great way to build a new set of skills and competencies and to be able to get to a level of ease with their direct reports will be to understand the connection of their roles to neuroscience. In the specific examples of the competencies I have chosen, I have been able to link them to certain topics in the module. My creation of materials to help train managers will not just be based on theory but I will build case studies, simulations and role plays to help the connect feel real and alive.
Kalpana Sinha is a Leadership and Organisation Professional. Her blog has reflections from her work experiences of over 20 years.