Global Managing Director, Strategic Solutions Lee Hecht Harrison; Speaker; and New York Times Best Selling Author
I seem to be spending more time these days chatting with my clients about their frontline leaders.
This once ignored population of leaders is getting renewed attention from businesses of all shapes and sizes. The reason is simple – frontline leaders are critical to the success of any organization.
If you are working in a front-line leadership position, that might actually come as a surprise. But after a lifetime of studying and observing leadership at all levels of an organization, I can assure you that it’s true.
Think about it for just a moment. If you are a frontline leader or manager, you are the one who is closest to both your customers and your employees. Unlike leaders in more senior roles, you have your proverbial finger on the pulse of all that is happening in your organization
Almost 60% of all frontline leaders ultimately fail in their roles.
Frontline leaders also represent the largest percentage of the leadership class. That means you will be counted on to implement strategy, champion of change, and shape the culture of your company. Those are some pretty big expectations.
However, there’s a problem. Many frontline leaders simply cannot see the opportunities before them. Instead, they let themselves get bogged down in mundane tactical work, repetitive administrative functions, and prickly people issues that all get dumped on a frontline manager’s desk.
It is because of all these reasons that frontline managers struggle so much. In fact, some research estimates that almost 60% of all frontline leaders ultimately fail in their roles.
So, if you are in a frontline leadership role now, the big question is: Do you want to be one of those casualties?
Below I share some key insights that my colleagues and I have learned in working with thousands of frontline leaders all over the world. Take some time to reflect on them and put them into action so that you can be a great frontline leader.
Define yourself as a leader first. If you are like most frontline leaders, you probably got promoted because of your exemplary individual performance as a technical superstar. Yet once you take on a leadership role, you have to start thinking about yourself differently – a leader first and a technical subject matter expert (SME) second. You are no longer defined only by your own accomplishments. Many leaders do the opposite. They continue to function as an SME, and neglect their leadership obligations.
Accept the burden of higher standards. Once you become a leader, you will be held to a higher standard of behavior in everything you do and say. What was tolerated when you were an employee is no longer acceptable when you are in a leadership role. You’ll soon realize that leaders do not have the luxury of being able to make simple excuses when things don’t work out. Leaders are judged on whether they are accountable and whether they produce results. To do that, you need to embrace the role and it’s higher standards.
Don’t do the work – manage it. Your core obligation is to drive the performance of your team. To make this happen, you have to shift from being a doer to becoming a delegator. Your day job changes from doing the work, to managing the work of your team. The key to mastering this is recasting where you get your personal sense of gratification. As an individual contributor, you were most excited and motivated by your own accomplishments and performance. Now you will obtain gratification from building your team. You need to be excited by watching others grow, develop, and succeed. When they succeed, you will be successful.
Master the fundamentals. As a frontline leader, your days will be consumed by a range of people issues – interpersonal conflicts, departmental skirmishes, or misaligned goals. In fact, you’ll be surprised how much time it takes, and how much energy it can sap from you. To be successful, you will need to master fundamental skills like coaching, setting clear expectations, managing performance, holding people accountable, and embracing conflict. These are skills that will help you through the rest of your career.
Don’t isolate yourself. One of the things that many frontline leaders come to learn is that the job can be isolating. Being in a leadership role sets you apart from those you lead. It can make you feel lonely at times. This is why it’s important to reach out to other leaders either at work or after work. Instead of sending emails, pick up the phone and talk to a colleague. Get into the habit of getting up from your workstation and chatting face-to-face with a colleague for a few minutes. These connections will be a great source of comfort and direction.
It’s a great time to be a frontline leader. You have a role that can have a real and meaningful impact on your team and your company. All you need to do is go all-in and accept the challenge.