3 Focus Areas to Develop Self-Sufficient, Productive Managers
People are often promoted into management without any experience managing teams. Promoting from within means those who are great at their current roles rise in the ranks. But performing well as a sole contributor doesn’t necessarily predict great performance as a manager — especially when great management is not trained or modeled within the organization. This missing rung in the development ladder can cause a ripple effect of underperformance, inefficiency and frustration.
So how can organizations build these managers’ capacity to lead so they can transition responsibility to their direct reports and free themselves up for more critical tasks?
Of course, many organizations have built strong systems and extensive management training programs to develop great leaders. But for nonprofit organizations with constrained resources, overhauling onboarding and training processes may not be immediately feasible.
Luckily, top-level leaders also have the power to create a strong ripple effect. By focusing on three key areas with their direct reports, leaders can expect more confident, effective and self-sufficient managers who thrive even without formal training. Here is how to address them.
1. Equip Them for Tough Conversations
A common frustration among leaders is that their managers come to them every time something goes wrong rather than handling it themselves. But it’s unfair to expect managers to deliver challenging feedback or correct behavior among tough personalities if the expectations for how to do that have never been set.
When a manager comes to you because a hard conversation is required, it’s a great opportunity to coach them on how to handle it instead of handling it yourself.
Set aside 15 to 30 minutes to discuss the issue, the behavior they would like to see from their team and what needs to be addressed. Give them examples of how to start the conversation and role-play different possibilities. It’s critical that during this conversation you normalize the discomfort and awkwardness that will likely arise. Hear their concerns and fears, offer your guidance, let them know you will be there to back them up, and set a future time to circle back and review how it went.
This will signal to your managers that this is a part of their job, and, with time, they will become more comfortable. It will also build trust in your relationship, opening the door for even more effective coaching conversations in the future.
2. Create Clear Expectations for What Great Leadership Looks Like
If you have never had a direct conversation with your managers about what great leadership looks like, it’s time. Great leadership is effective while also upholding the organization’s values and culture. This means standards will be different from one organization to another, and it shouldn’t be left to mid-level managers to figure that out on their own.
You might start by collaborating with human resources to see if any management resources already exist. If they do not, it is OK to create expectations within your team. What are the top three things you want to see from them? What responsibilities do they have that their direct reports do not? How can they deliver on these expectations while also staying within company values and living the company culture?
If you don’t know where to start, simply have a conversation. Call your managers together and let them know you want to support them by being very clear about what is expected of them in their roles. Tell them what you want to see and open the conversation for them to ask questions. Do they need you to be more clear? Are they unsure on how to deliver? Are there particular challenges they expect?
Having an open conversation will provide more clarity on exactly what is expected and allow you to support your managers in their development by creating clear plans and solutions for the obstacles that may get in the way.
3. Leverage Coaching to Build Their Confidence as Decision-Makers
If a manager comes to you with a decision you feel they should be able to make on their own, refrain from problem-solving or decision-making. Instead, ask them questions and coach them through the decision-making process.
Start by asking clarifying questions about the issue and getting all of the facts on the table. From there, ask them what they think and allow them to weigh the different options. This is an opportunity for you to encourage them when they are on the right track and provide helpful context when they are not.
Wrap up the conversation by letting them know if this is the sort of decision they should loop you in on, or if you trust them to handle these decisions on their own. It may take a few coaching conversations before they start making confident decisions, and that’s OK. The important thing is that you are not always problem-solving for them, but are instead helping them strengthen their own problem-solving skills.
These three focus areas have the power to significantly transform your managers. It is important to expect missteps and mistakes. Your job as a leader is not to control behavior to avoid mistakes, it is instead to help lead your team through the missteps and come out the other side better prepared and equipped. Creating trusting relationships and welcoming open communication will accelerate that process.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Brooke Monaghan (she/her) is a Certified Leadership Coach and Project Management Professional who works with founders and leaders of values-driven organizations to help them grow by centering leadership and culture. She believes that organizations have a unique ability to create change for both their communities and employees and started her coaching and consulting practice to help both entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders increase their impact.