Meme Partners | Helping managers be leaders
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19 Nov Helping managers be leaders

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Meme was presenting at the AMI Public Sector Summit, in Canberra this week, on creating Collaborative Ambition – tapping into employees’ underlying motivations and channelling that energy to advance the organisation’s goals. We looked at Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence (or Mastery) as key intrinsic drivers.

Speaking about how motivating it is for an employee to feel good about their own performance led to an interesting discussion about how demotivating it is for someone to feel the opposite, to feel unhappy with their performance. In particular, we talked about the opportunity to better support mid-level managers, helping them to play their crucial leadership role more effectively.

Many managers don’t feel confident sitting their team down and leading two-way dialogue about a new organisational strategy – perhaps because they often don’t know much more about the strategy than the team does. Why would they put themselves in a situation where they’ll feel insecure and incompetent? If it’s apparent to staff that the manager had no input to the new strategy, then conversation about it can undermine the manager’s position as leader within the team.

And if managers don’t feel confident leading that discussion with their team, then they won’t do it. There are easier options: flicking on an email or reading out a powerpoint slide, perhaps with a raised eyebrow or a slight shrug, then moving the topic quickly and authoritatively back to other items on the agenda.

It’s not enough for managers to pass out information. They need to own the new strategy, and persuade and motivate their teams to execute in the right way. Otherwise, the strategy was just an idea.

Earlier this month we hosted a lunch at our office on this same topic, among some clients and friends. We all felt the solution has to be more genuine engagement with managers, earlier on. As someone at the table said: “Focusing on the why is the most important part. When people understand the why, they know what to do.”

One financial services company we’ve worked with recently asked line managers for their input on how to execute a new strategy, facilitating a discussion about how best to target and serve a new customer base. The organisation gained some good ideas and every manager left the room understanding and owning the strategy.

We can also be smarter about how we cascade information, equipping managers with training, forums for peer-to-peer discussion, and toolkits to help them lead. One attendee at the lunch put it beautifully: “No one comes into work saying today I’m going do a crap job. We need to meet their desire to be a good manager.”

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