Many of our clients are facing a crisis of front-line leadership. Their most-experienced foremen and supervisors are retiring, and they’re struggling to find folks who will take their place. The question “how do we find our next supervisors” implies that leadership is a quality or attribute — that someone has it or they don’t. In my experience there are some innate qualities that make certain people more comfortable in leadership roles, but by-and-large leadership is a series of behaviors… of habits or “moves”… that can be taught and developed. Stop trying to find leaders and start promoting the moves that make leaders effective. Here are three questions that can help. (These are shamelessly stolen from the work of Chip and Dan Heath. Their books Switch and The Power of Moments are worth buying and reading today.) Question 1. If a miracle occurred tonight, and suddenly each of your supervisors was a better leader — how would you know? What would you see tomorrow as you came into work that would make you ask, “Wow, what the heck happened last night?” What would you notice people doing or saying differently? Question 2. Who are your bright spots? Which supervisors stand out as leaders — the people you’d clone if you could? Watch those folks closely — what do they do that sets them apart? We’re not interested in their personality or style — what are the moves that make them successful. Question 3. Which moments really matter where you work? Great supervisors are leading all the time — but there are a few activities each day that make a big difference. For example: great supervisors lead engaging start-of-shift meetings, they respond to mistakes constructively, or they on-board new employees well. If you could upgrade the performance of your front-line leaders in a few key activities or moments, where would you focus? These questions help us get specific. They help us look past the personal qualities and attributes that seem to be the source of leaders’ effectiveness and identify specific behaviors to promote.
  • It does little good to tell a new supervisor, “Be charismatic and outgoing.” But we can say, “At the start of each day, shake hands with your team-members. Make a point of speaking to each person about a non-work related topic every day.”
  • It does no good to say, “Be a good delegator!” But we can teach front-line leaders to ask questions whenever they assign work to someone: “How are you going to do this task? How could it go wrong? Is there a better way?”
Leadership is vital to organizational success and employee engagement, but developing leaders can seem daunting. A great way to start is by getting very specific and telling folks what to do rather than who to be. Interested in learning more? Ready to develop your front-line leaders ? We’re ready to help. 

One thought on “Developing front-line leaders: miracles, moves and moments

  1. Hal Rabbino says:

    Loved how clean and clear the distinction is between having an attribute innately or actually doing a specific thing that could make a difference. I also appreciate the clarity with which you describe how leadership can be taught and/or learned by making the experience personal…at least that is how my biased eyes read it! Cool…and thank you. Will use the reference and steal with glee…

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