I am often asked to coach managers who have been promoted in professional organisations, such as in education or healthcare. These managers are more often experts in their professional field and have been promoted / selected for leadership based on these qualities. For example a Headteacher or Deputy of a school. Once they have been given the managerial responsibility, it becomes apparent that a new skill set is required in order to effectively manage the organisation and its people. As these are likely to be different skills to the ones that got them promoted, how can we best distinguish what skills and tools a manager now needs?
Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it . .” David Ogilvy
This may be accomplished by imagining that you have been promoted to lead professionals in an organisation in which you have no professional experience yourself. For example you may now be a manager of a hospital department but with no clinical training. Then what skills would you need in order to lead your organisation?
A recent Harvard Business School (HBR) article entitled “Leading People When They Know More Than You Do” addresses directly the skills that you would need in this situation. You might at first be naturally inclined to try and become professionally qualified, the same as your peers, in order to also become an expert in the situation that you are managing. However, leaders must resist this urge to be experts in all areas in order to feel that they can lead. Here are the 4 areas that HBR recommends:
- Focus on Relationships : A good leader works at individual relationships, getting to know the people they lead. Spending time in the right ways to motivate, support, develop and facilitate will be key.
- Adding Value through Enabling : You must become an expert in monitoring the work environment, team relationships and dealing with less productive and damaging situations. You need to learn when to intervene and when to leave things alone.
- Focus on the Bigger Picture : As you become more strategic in your outlook, other will look to you for your added perspective on matters. Ask yourself; how will the issue at hand affect people two levels below me? And how will it affect people two levels above me?
- Develop ‘Executive Presence’ : It is important to pay attention to your presence, for example when you are entering a meeting. One way to review this is to analyse someone that you feel has ‘executive presence’ and consider how they dress, their body language, posture and how they speak. Look beyond personality traits. You can develop and improve your own presence so that it inspires more confidence and trust in your leadership.
This exercise will help managers see that they do not always need to be the expert in the professional detail in order to add value. We often spend most of our time in this expert role when much of our productivity can be improved when we focus on relationships and facilitation skills.
Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.” Ronald Reagan