Good Managers Aren’t Born. They’re Trained Early

“I am actually a good manager. I have had other people in the office comment on my managerial behaviors and they like it. Cause I treat people under me like actual people. And I don’t make them feel like I am there boss that they have to be scared of. It’s a learning experience for me, cause four people to manage is no joke especially when I’m used to and trained to do everything myself.”

This was a text from my daughter Lauren as we were discussing her new job and her new role; her first time managing a team. As a proud dad, I read her text with a smile spreading across my face. She has risen very well since graduating from Penn State.

However, in her journey she had her share of roadblocks, mostly out of control managers. She was berated by one leader for suggesting something as small as where the cars would pick up the team from their off-site, and she was dressed down in a meeting for giving her insight. Once, she was not given credit for a project that everyone knew she conceived. Her boss took the credit.

The list goes on and on.

Her reasons for leaving those jobs were the same as for so many people – one of the main reasons people quit jobs — out of control managers.

Why does this still happen?

While I never advocate bad treatment of people, I always counsel people to use the experience as a learning exercise. While it is not pleasant having to deal with these types of situations, they can be a powerful tool for self-development. Learning what NOT to do when and if your leadership opportunity arises is powerful. Lauren’s text showed that yes, she had learned from those horrible experiences.

But my question comes back to WHY?

Why are organizations turning a blind eye to what everyone knows internally? We hear of succession planning, leadership development and all sorts of “executive activities.” However as a first step, why not try to send a simple signal that bad behavior will not be allowed? We are doing a disservice to teams and individuals as we look the other way and rationalize that cancerous behavior.

Development must start early

How are we preparing our young leaders? This is such an impressionable category of young people and it is paramount that organizations recognize this. If your learning and development work is NOT properly preparing this budding talent you are not preparing your organization. Their first supervisory level is the starting point of development. Understanding team dynamics is a starting point which gives a strong foundation for developing the next level of leaders. As I have often said, at each level of increasing responsibility there should be a concurrent level of development. Until we, as organizations, realize that our future managers and leaders have to be developed and seasoned early – as soon as their potential is recognized — we are losing out on a tremendous opportunity. That should be the most important segment of any L & D strategic objective.

New leaders are shouldering the weight of the organization and we need to help them lead and become effective leaders in the future. This should be a major concern of executives within the organization. The other step is to get rid of bad managers. The longer we let these out of control individuals prosper, we are doing a disservice to our organization and our people.

Here’s where to start

How can we tailor leadership development for this group that will someday be leading our organizations? One step is to institute a more consistent and well-informed use of a developmental journey, defining differences in what leadership looks like at various stages, starting with the very first stage.

Creating a “map” of leadership skills that are important, and developing what they should look at various levels of increasing responsibility. This should help to erode the bad habits our future leaders may have been picked up from past toxic styles, lack of self-confidence, etc. This could be developed along the lines of a “future leaders framework.” This framework would make sure that the effective leadership foundation starts at ground zero.

In developing such a program we must decide our desired outcomes What makes a successful new leadership program or experience? What impact results from leadership opportunities, programmatic initiatives or mentoring, for example? What are short-term results and the impact over time?

What can we do today that develops them for future opportunities to lead, learn and grow?

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My suggestions:

  • Make young leaders’ leadership development the foundation of your L & D strategy.
  • Identify early and ask for their insight.
  • Develop learning not as a classroom event but as a journey.
  • Surround the initiative from all side, from the C-suite to the actual participants.
  • Let them guide the framework of discussion.
  • More importantly ask them whether they would want to be considered for this journey. They just may say no. Listen.

So to my daughter who is at a foundational stage of leadership, I am encouraged by her statement:

“Cause I treat people under me like actual people.”

That statement gives me hope that the foundation is gelling and she is on the right track.

Ron Thomas

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.