Many of today’s leadership development programs are still built on a foundation of outdated assumptions about the role of 21st-century managers. Traditional approaches to management suggest that once people move into the management track, they are expected to delegate work and provide high-level guidance, direction, coordination, and oversight. Although these skills are important, many managers today will tell you their reality, out of necessity, is that they are more and more becoming “hands-on managers.” In addition to their management responsibilities, they are expected to continue to do a significant amount of professional work themselves.
Odds are you now have many hands-on managers in your organization. This is happening because today’s increasingly knowledge-driven, cost-competitive work world is changing the way management is done. Organizations can no longer afford to promote their best talent to the leadership ranks and then allow them to focus exclusively on being managers; their superior technical and functional skills, which typically take a long time to develop, are still very much needed for solving complex problems. And if they do not continue to do some hands-on work, they will no longer have the knowledge they need to inform their management decisions.
Does your leadership development program adequately address the needs of your hands-on managers? This does not mean debunking proven leadership theories or trashing existing leadership development programs. All managers still need to learn the basic strategies for the usual leadership topics, including goal setting, addressing conflict, communicating effectively, unleashing motivation, and providing feedback.
But it is not effective to train hands-on managers as if they are traditional managers. Many of the hands-on managers we coach and train across a multitude of industries tell us they are frustrated with current leadership training, mostly because the context of the training assumes that they will let go of and delegate the work they used to do. If they still spend time doing that work themselves, they are accused of being unable to let go, of being poor delegators, or worse, of being ineffective managers.
The Missing Link: Engage Hands-On Managers in Developing Talent
Your hands-on managers could be your best partners in workforce development. Working alongside their direct reports, your hands-on managers are well positioned to encourage on-the-job learning. Particularly concerning, however, is that only 20 percent of the talent development professionals who were interviewed for a 2018 ATD Emerging Talent whitepaper reported that their organization was “highly effective at developing specific skills in emerging talent to meet immediate needs.”
Rita Murray, CEO of Performance Consulting LLC, notes in this report that “emerging talent who we think want a lot of online and self-directed training . . . (also) crave interaction and real-time feedback.”
Who better to give this real-time feedback and on-the-job interaction than your hands-on managers? But all too often, when hands-on managers get involved in doing work, they behave in ways that limit their team’s learning. They jump into the fray heads down and plow through the work like the individual contributors they used to be. Or worse, they become micromanagers who encourage boss dependence.
What’s needed is for these hands-on managers to shift their thinking about workforce development to a mindset that says, “I can do work and do it in ways that accelerate learning for my team members.” And to do this, they need to become adept at what we call “situational doing.”
Hands-on managers need to know when and how to engage in situational doing. In our book, Becoming a Can-Do Leader: A Guide for the Busy Manager (ATD Press 2016), we note that a very useful addition to traditional leadership programs is providing training in situational doing, which means:
Using a protocol that helps hands-on managers decide whether it is situationally appropriate for them to take on a task they might have delegated.
Learning to use the “think TP&L” mantra to remind them to consider the task, people, and learning (TP&L) issues that might need to be addressed while they are situationally doing.
Coming up next: Want to learn more about situational doing and other key issues hands-on managers face that are not typically addressed in traditional leadership training? Our next month’s can-do leadership blog will focus on what you can do to help your hands-on managers master strategies that will enable them to do and delegate work in ways that further their leadership agenda and develop the capabilities and capacity your organization needs.