All Articles Leadership Careers New managers as leaders: Closing the skills gap

New managers as leaders: Closing the skills gap

4 min read


Today’s business world is fast-paced and complex. Opportunities emerge quickly (and disappear rapidly), new threats emerge continuously, and globalization opens up new markets that require intimate local knowledge.

In this volatile and ever-changing environment, new managers matter. They’re on the front lines with your workforce, your customers, your competitors, and your markets. They have tremendous potential, and some of them will become your organization’s future executives. It’s easy to simply rely on your new managers to take care of the management basics — assigning workloads, supervising others, approving vacation requests, managing budgets, and conducting performance reviews — but there is another role that they can, and should, step into: the role of leader.

New managers — with their enthusiasm, energy, and fresh ideas –can be positioned to become effective as leaders if they’re properly developed from the beginning. Forward-looking executives are recognizing that developing new leaders is vital in order to keep up with the pace of change in the business world, and to address the leadership skills gap emerging as boomers retire. Simply put, having new leaders manage teams without first having them develop a leadership mindset is a missed opportunity for your organization, and could hinder your growth over time.

Working with organizations around the world, we have found that new managers — especially the millennials now stepping into management positions — are eager to embrace a level of responsibility and take on business challenges far earlier in their careers than previous generations. Millennials seek meaning in their work and have a strong focus on collaboration. Further, millennials want to be plugged in and connected to their organization’s strategic purpose. They want to play an important role in achieving that purpose, and they want this acknowledged through training and development, opportunities to take on challenging and important assignments, and exposure to your organization’s senior leadership.

Organizations that encourage new managers to assume leadership roles can see tremendous benefits including a more consistent overall focus and alignment around high-level strategy, the ability to respond more nimbly to market shifts and new opportunities, a more engaged workforce, and higher retention rates.

It is important for executives to consider that helping new managers adapt to the role of a manager, as well as to the role of a leader, requires them to synergize two very different skill sets. Succeeding as a manager means acquiring managerial know-how; succeeding as a leader means honing inner qualities that enable an individual to act with authority, confidence, decisiveness, and clarity.

How do we get them to that point?

New manager training is often focused on skill-set building, but for true leadership development to occur, programs also need to create mindset development, or the behavior change that is so critical to a leader’s success. Most organizations have company-specific skill development covered through in-house new-manager training focused on the organization’s internal business practices and processes, and some may also offer training in basic management skills, like budgeting and planning. But leadership training requires that new managers understand their connection to their organization’s strategy and gain the skills and experience to help them use that knowledge to inspire and focus their teams on the front lines every day.

Savvy organizations are taking a fresh approach to development programs for their new managers by going virtual. Traditional short-duration, face-to-face workshops seldom yield lasting results. The behavior change needed only occurs when learning takes place over time, with the opportunity to put that learning immediately into action. When delivered over time, the best programs allow new leaders to learn by doing, incorporating new skills and behaviors directly into their daily work activities. A key benefit of virtual learning is that it fits easily into today’s demanding work style and can be efficiently shared among an organization’s often geographically dispersed new-manager workforce. And, because millennials are comfortable with technology and virtual communication, this type of learning program has generational appeal.

In this global, constantly evolving environment, senior executives are looking to their managers to drive business success now more than ever. And today’s new managers are ready, willing, and able to lead your organization. Support them by helping them develop both their managerial skill sets and their leadership mindsets, and you will reap the benefits of an organization that is more closely aligned around its strategy, more agile in responding to emerging opportunities and better able to engage and retain its workforce.

The authors are each from Harvard Business Publishing. Ellen Bailey is senior learning solutions manager; Rob McKinney is product director, leadership content and platform; and PJ Neal is product director, leadership programs.