Leadership coach Elizabeth Lyle is concerned about the future of leadership.
She realizes that today’s middle managers “our pipeline of future talent” are adopting the bad habits of their superiors. These traits are ill-suited for leading organizations of the future, where “speed, flexibility, trust and cooperation” will become vital leadership assets.
Once ingrained, bad leadership habits are difficult to shake off.
Consider Jane, a highly accomplished senior manager with a staid, top-down management style, and John, an exceptionally talented manager who works for Jane. John recognizes that Jane’s decision-making process is inefficient and won’t work in the business environment of the future. For example, Jane insists on one-on-one meetings with each of her firm’s executives to ensure they are on board with her idea before convening a general meeting to reach a consensus. John fully intends to change this process when he is the boss.
But for now, he is happy to go along with Jane’s outmoded practices so Jane will continue to promote him. Yet when the time comes, John may not know how to change. By shadowing Jane, he will be familiar only with her methods. Moreover, he won’t want to take any risks and may opt to stick with Jane’s inefficient approach. Yet middle managers like John are best positioned to incite leadership improvements within organizations.
(This is probably the reason why it’s so hard to change organisation culture, since, it has been inherited and ingrained, changing it would take a monumental effort.)
“Our future leaders are learning from senior role models who just aren’t ready to role model yet.”
How can organizations inspire change?
Companies need to recognize that “the best form of learning happens on the job.” Two factors which almost all the time and affect most of the results are role models and work environments, which in any case are critical to such learning.
Alas, today’s senior leaders are inept role models, and work environments are experiencing radical disruption. Thus, middle managers must “take charge of their professional destinies” or risk inheriting antiquated organizations. Senior managers often are reluctant to bequeath power to their underlings, but they need to learn that ceding some control can be beneficial.
For example, John ought to present Jane with a thoughtful proposal on how to make decision-making processes more efficient and ask for Jane’s permission to do so. By giving John space to practice new leadership behaviours, Jane can contribute to developing a new generation of leaders and augment her own leadership style.
Leadership coaches can act as “couples therapists” in this process by observing and advising on the interactions between leaders and their direct reports, fostering the cooperation and communication skills critical to the workplace of the future.