How do managers learn leadership?

How do managers learn leadership?Whiteboard reading "To-Do List: LEARN"

Any way they can.

That’s not a joke, though it sort of sounds like one.

Let’s start here, with the 70-20-10 model of learning and development.

The 70-20-10 model tells us that 10 percent of learning comes from classroom instruction, 20 percent from observation, and 70 percent from doing.

Yes, we can – and some do – debate the numbers. But let’s just accept that doing is the most important aspect of learning, with observation coming second, and, yeah, those training programs? A distant third.

Not because training isn’t important; it is.

But because training without doing doesn’t embed the knowledge into real understanding. It may be fun to go to a workshop, but without the follow-up afterwards, it is – as you’ve probably experienced – kinda hard to actually implement whatever concepts you may have thought you “learned.” (In quotes, because if you can’t do it, did you really learn it?)

So back to my question: how do managers learn leadership?

If they’re a self-starter, someone who understands they need to own their own career and professional development, they go and do research, read books, find podcasts, and perhaps take classes. That’s a start, because everyone does need to learn the concepts of leadership, the foundational skills.

If they’re lucky, they have someone – a mentor, a coach, a leader – whose actions they can observe. And there we have the observational aspect. Which, I should add, can certainly include those kinds of actions not to emulate. There were certainly a few of those in my corporate career, which is one of the big reasons why I do what I do today!

And then there’s the doing. Experimenting. Trial-and-error. And yes, making mistakes, and learning from them. Noticing what works and what doesn’t have the desired result.

So what’s the problem here?

Only that all too often, the fledgling first-line manager, recently promoted out of individual teamwork, is unsure how to learn, where to look, and what to do. They usually don’t feel safe asking for help – after all, the person they’d like to ask is the person who just promoted them!

So they struggle. And they fumble. And they stumble into bad habits that might appear to get results – micromanaging, refusing to delegate, and so on – but that ultimately lead to team disengagement, failing projects, and, yes, departing employees (because we know that people leave managers, not jobs).

This is wildly unnecessary, not to mention expensive. And yet companies keep doing it – keep overlooking the need to help their managers learn, grow, and become the leaders they want to be, their team wishes they were, and the organization itself needs for success.

If I sound a tad cranky here, it’s because this pattern is profoundly frustrating to me. It’s so unnecessary and expensive, but it sticks around because – according to some of the executives I’ve spoken with – they believe it’s too expensive and time-consuming to provide the kinds of support that managers need to become good managers and leaders.

I suggest to you that it’s far more expensive to not provide that support. And that link leads to an interactive spreadsheet that proves my point.

I know. I’m cranky. But I have good reasons to be, because I hate seeing well-meaning people struggle. So – want to help within your company? Let’s talk. Schedule your conversation here!