We forget how hard it is to be a young Manager, to manage people for the first time, to wonder if your team think you’re a bit of a flake or even worse. The insecurities that all young Managers face are probably the hardest part of the journey to becoming a great leader. In the early days, the temptation is to be the Mr or Mrs nice guy so you do all the usual’s, the team nights out, paying the bill (sometimes out of your own pocket!), praising them when they do well and working so hard on team spirit that it seems you are, in fact, the last to leave the office, when really you thought it would be the other way around, as soon as you hit management!
Then it happens, somebody drops the ball on something really important. You can’t ignore it; you can’t let it go with the comforting remarks ‘it could have happened to any of us’. No, this time it’s serious and if you’re being really honest with yourself, there’s been a bit of a pattern of mistakes. Little things, nothing to lose sleep over but not our highest performer. You can’t avoid it any longer, you have to have “the talk”. Address the issue and plan the development from it. It’s awkward, it’s all a bit of a downer, you dread having it and you’re more than relieved when it’s over. You get on with it and you all move forward.
Now its performance review time, you have a whole team to evaluate and HR are talking bell curves. All the team spirit you’ve built up is about to be trashed with reviews, recriminations and all-round stress. You dread it but get through it, with the end results that everyone seemed disappointed. The high performers were looking for more constructive feedback to help them get promoted for jobs you can’t identify, the average performers were disappointed to not be high performers and the lower performers are annoyed that you didn’t tell them sooner. This people management business is harder than it looks.
Over the years, you become more skillful at it, you give feedback at the moment its relevant, you provide regular feedback that helps develop your’ people. You catch the issues early so that they don’t build, you praise in public and you deliver more constructive feedback in private. You try to grow and develop your team and when it’s really going well your team become superstars, get promoted and move on to bigger and better opportunities than they ever even envisaged for themselves. You are proud of your team, proud of your managerial skills and your 360 reviews/employee surveys tell the organization of your accomplishments of your leadership.
But how can we short circuit it all, why does it take so long to move from the insecure first timer to the experienced and professional leader that we all love to work for. Why? Because we are rarely naturally equipped with the skills we need, they are learned over time. We rarely get the chance to be coached on the job with measurable and tangible measures that teach us continually how to improve the art of being a great coach. Sure, we are sent on the odd leadership course and we might be lucky enough to have a mentor who is a great people leader but all of that feels more like therapy than something we can tangibly change in our work practices.
Now, more than ever, leaders need to move faster through the learning curve of being a great people leader. Giving them hands on tangible measures of their coaching capabilities will help. Giving them real advice and tips based on their results will help even further. We need to give a lot more feedback to our Managers on their true coaching capabilities. Coaching is like any skill, it needs to be learned, practiced, measured and refined. There’s a real role for HR in taking Managers from early stage to maturity, through rolling out coaching skills in the same way we learn many other skills, through practice and feedback. It is only with a continual focus on refining the art of becoming a great coach that we will produce great leaders.