Frontline leaders are the lynchpin of every organization: no one has a greater influence over productivity, quality, safety and morale than foremen, crew chiefs and first-level supervisors. And yet most companies struggle to invest time and energy in developing these leaders. More training isn’t the answer: what really works is frequent attention, engagement and support from more seasoned colleagues.

Here are five ways to focus your team on developing frontline leaders:

  1. Make a list and check it twice (a month). Your team pays attention to the things you pay attention to. Make a list of all the foremen in your organization and review it at your staff meeting. Ask questions like: Who is ready for promotion? Who needs help or support? Who has gone above and beyond lately? Is there anyone who doesn’t belong on this list? And what are we doing about it? 
  2. Meet every frontline leader (regularly). People do their best work when they feel included, recognized and valued. Make it a point to be on a first-name-basis with every foreman in your organization; challenge yourself to shake hands with each of them every week; when someone is promoted to the position, have lunch with them. Treat anything that gets in the way of doing this as a leadership barrier that must be removed.
  3. Get them talking (and thinking).  Making small talk about sports, family or hobbies is a good start, but be sure to talk with foremen about leadership. And don’t talk at them! Instead, ask questions about how they lead; ask about their strengths and weaknesses as leaders; ask about how they’re developing their team… and how you can help them develop. 
  4. Mandate (and model) mentoring. The best leaders prepare their successor. Expect your direct reports to do the same. Frequently ask them, “Who will take over for you when you move on? What are you doing to prepare them? What tasks are you delegating in order to develop your team?” Pro-tip: people are more likely to mentor when you “walk your talk” and mentor them!
  5. Make the most of your meetings. Chances are your meetings with field leaders focus on tasks and processes. If that’s all you talk about, you’re sending the wrong message. Set aside time at every foremen meeting to have an interactive conversation about specific situations or challenges young leaders face. Send the message that leading people is as important as getting stuff done.

Humanus Solutions helps business leaders succeed in the “people business”. Ready to create a step-change in leadership within your organization? Give us a call. 

About the author: Andy Erickson is a fouder and principal consultant at Humanus Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in people-centric leadership. He can be reached at aerickson@humanus-solutions.com

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