Developing Managers and Leaders

The distinction between “management” and “leadership” is important, because they serve different roles in an organization — and they require different approaches in how they are developed.

The Government Accountability Office has released its updated list of high risk areas across the federal government. It flags for attention the mission-critical skills gap in jobs such as telecommunications, cybersecurity, and acquisition. But there is also a growing gap in experienced managers and leaders as the Baby Boom heads for retirement. What approaches are needed to ensure the next generation of managers and leaders are ready? Business Team by Stockimages

Understanding Distinctions in Roles. The distinctions between the roles of managers vs. leaders have been described by the well-known business writer, Michael Watkins. In a Harvard Business Review article, he says the differences are predominantly shifts in perspective and responsibility from: specialist to generalist; analyst to integrator; tactician to strategist; problem solver to agenda setter; or warrior to diplomat (that is, getting things done at all costs vs. thinking about future battles and the need for alliances).

While Watkins’ list may imply that managers are lesser beings, I don’t think that is his intent. He is just trying to provide examples of the distinctions, which imply that how you prepare for the different roles will vary.

Good program managers are critical to effective program implementation. However, developing leaders is more complex. In the federal government, there are ECQs – executive core qualifications – for the development and selection of its career senior executives. They are a good starting point for understanding the characteristics of an effective leader. But Bob Tobias, an American University professor who is an astute observer of leadership, says “A good leader needs foresight, insight, resilience, critical thinking, emotional and social intelligence.” He is concerned that the ECQs are not sufficient to predict success as a leader. For example, the ECQs stress the need to be flexible and open to new information. But this doesn’t really get at the importance of being comfortable with ambiguity, and the lack of information!

So how do you develop managers and leaders? Harvard professor Bob Behn is exploring this issue by trying to understand the distinction between sharing explicit knowledge vs. sharing tacit knowledge. He says that “if we cannot explain our knowledge, it cannot be used by others.” This conundrum is relevant to understanding how we develop managers and leaders. He explains this by using the analogy of the differences between training a cook and training a chef.

Behn says that a cook learns the routines of how to follow the recipes and ensure they are repeatable. His or her work is procedure- and process-driven. Training cooks — and managers — is relatively straightforward. There are prescribed approaches. There are recipes and rules. They learn WHAT to do. They can be certified for being able to demonstrate these skills.

In contrast, a chef learns why different ingredients and techniques work together and how to deviate from, or create new, recipes. They have to internalize principles with practice and experience. They often face situations that are unlike what they’ve seen in the past, but they can apply values or principles they’ve learned or developed. Because the learning is tacit, it often involves person-to-person interactions — watching masters, and seeing how they develop values, principles, and behaviors that work, given unexpected ingredients that vary from meal to meal. They learn WHY to do something. There are no certifications that can attest to their ability to deal with ambiguity, nuance, and offer good judgment. Learning to be a leader almost involves an apprenticeship approach.

So What Is the Being Done? The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the agencies have an existing network of training opportunities for managers. In addition, many professional associations and universities offer certification courses for managers. There are also some leadership learning opportunities, such as the Federal Executive Institute. But the Institute largely offers a framework for leadership development – the actual development occurs on the job.

Interestingly, there is an intriguing new opportunity for developing leaders on the job in the federal government – the recently-launched White House Executive Leadership Development Program for Future Senior Career Executives. This new initiative, first announced by President Obama in his meeting with senior executives in December, was kicked off earlier this month. It will allow high-potential talent to work on cross-agency assignments and interact with top leaders across the government. In addition, OPM Director Katherine Archuleta says that an SES mentoring program and coaching network are in the works, as well, for current executives. These kinds of opportunities have historically been available in the military – now this approach is expanding to the civilian side of government.

While these are fledgling initiatives, as they grow, they will serve as conduits for sharing the tacit knowledge of how to be effective leaders for future cohorts of executives.

IBM Center for The Business of Government

Graphic courtesy of StockImages via FreeDigitalPhotos

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Mark Hammer

Leaders are like firefighters. The vast najority of the time, you don’t need them. But when you DO need them, you really really NEED them.

And that poses a conundrum, because leadership is a skill not an innate trait. Since it is both mission-critical AND something that a great many managers don’t get nearly enough practice at, I think we tend to run into a dearth of effective leaders, simply because so few people have a chance to get good at it.

I’ve neen encouraged to pursue a management path on many occasions, by others much further along in that role than I. My answer is that, if the job consisted of 7-8% leading, and 92-93% managing, I might give it a shot. But from what I see around me, it’s really more like 2% leading, and 98% managing. Sadly, that ratio just doesn’t work for me. And just as sadly, I don’t think it works for the people we are depending on to be leaders. We need to let them off the leash now and then, and get some practice.

I will also raise another fly in the ointment: performance pay. My sense is that it has a way of undermining the development of leadership. Many jurisdictions make a certain portion of managers’ pay “at risk”, or otherwise contingent on “performance”. But what gets put at risk is the willingness of managers to think on their own, or take a stand. “Performance” can end up being defined as achieving the objectives set by the legislative/political side, and making the minister/secretary happy. Where is the motivation to become more innovative, or to simply put one’s foot down in response to unreasonable objectives (such as making certain things happen in time for an election, whether done well or not), when there is big money riding on NOT doing so?

So maybe we have fewer leaders, or less leadership within our management cadre, because we don’t give them a chance to become skilled at it, and because we are implicitly telling them that if they DO intend to lead, it’s gonna cost them.

Dennis Martin

This is an interesting article that brings up some fundamental issues both in the government and in business. Much of the effort today seems to focus on developing leaders after they’ve been on the job for 10 years or more and I think this approach is part of the problem.
In the military we begin our leadership training very early in our career; all members (and most especially officer candidates) learn about leadership through classrooms, supervised application of theory, and good old trial and error. The importance of solid leadership skills is emphasized and continually developed throughout a member’s career through ongoing coursework and mentorship…in short, through a sort of apprenticeship. The expectation is that leaders will spend a significant part of their energy cultivating and reinforcing increasingly complex leadership principles in their junior members.
As I’ve transitioned to the civilian workforce I’m struck by a glaring shortage of any significant leadership development opportunities for younger or newer employees. Why do we wait until an employee has been saturated with years of bad habits such as politicking, back-biting and butt-kissing before we begin attempting to instill more productive and suitable values and skill sets?
An insistence on appropriate leadership development early in an employee’s career can not only improve that employee’s effectiveness and morale, but will ultimately make the organization better.