All managers are leaders
March 5, 2009 · Print this post
The Wall Street Journal reported recently that more companies are recognizing the need to continue investing in developing and deepening leadership skills even in hard times.
That’s great, but the news is not all rosy. It’s a hard time for training in general — a hard time for business in general — and it infuriates me to see so much short-term thinking coming out of the back rooms and board rooms of companies whose decisions affect so many human lives. Bob Sutton makes a case for why knee-jerk layoffs are stupid response to economic woe (and I encourage any companies who are considering layoffs to pony up for the Harvard Business Review case study/commentary “The Layoff”). Layoffs are the most egregious kind of panic response, but it’s equally frustrating to see companies emphasizing “leadership” training for “senior” people.
Please. The people who most need whatever skills and tools we can give them are the people on the front lines of business everywhere — people who are making things, building things, fixing things, transporting goods, getting services out, getting payments in, putting groceries on the shelves and checking them out at the register. People who are doing the daily work of business. Yes, strategy and innovation are important, and they may save your company down the road, but today the people who are doing the work need all of us to be the best managers we can be.
All managers are leaders.
Training executives and senior managers at the expense of front-line managers and supervisors is dumb. Because productivity and effectiveness start at the local level — with the individual team. If that team’s manager is ineffective at communicating clearly, providing resources, sharing information, making decisions, managing conflicting priorities and keeping people focused, then it doesn’t matter that the vice president of the division is a great leader. It just doesn’t.
My bias is obvious, of course — my program is all about training managers. But I am not frustrated today because the Wall Street Journal implies that such programs can’t make money right now. I’m frustrated because companies don’t seem to understand that so-called “soft skills” — communicating clearly with co-workers, running effective meetings, agreeing on process — are what keep work flowing through their organizations. Real leadership would be doing whatever it takes to keep that pipeline as wide open as possible.
I believe that things will get better. American business, the business culture I know best, has a long history of being both ingenious and stubborn. We haven’t always been flexible, but we’re learning — we have to. And those much-derided soft skills are at the heart of the flexibility that will save us.