Front-line leaders manage 80 percent of the workforce and are more than half of management. They manage the most direct reports within their organizations and are the cornerstone of strategy execution, customer satisfaction and employee engagement.
These leaders need tools to implement new systems, generate opportunities and respond to challenges. But this neglected group often doesn’t get the support it needs, despite its potential effect on the business. Here are three reasons to better equip front-line leaders for more effective management practices.
1. There’s a talent shortage. Company growth, coupled with large percentages of retiring senior leaders, requires organizations to continuously identify candidates for promotion and systematically prepare first-line and emerging leaders to assume greater responsibilities and skill sets that continue to evolve over time.
While team leadership practices are critical to individual, team and organizational success, two of the most common challenges emerging leaders face involve managing and motivating their teams and developing a leadership mindset. To combat these challenges, it is important to emphasize four essential practices across front-line leader development:
- Think like a leader
- Engage people
- Coach teams
- Get results through others
High-potential development should have a strong business focus, clearly integrating strategic business and organizational priorities with their personal development goals and activities. This integration is especially critical for high-potential employees who, in their current and future roles, play an important part in championing, shaping and modeling the organization’s strategy, values and goals. In addition, maintaining a firm grounding in the strategic realities and models that drive the business and industry allows high potentials and their organizations to experience immediate, applicable business value from their learning.
Bersin by Deloitte reported that these higher investments in emerging leaders include a wide range of development programs: assessments, action learning, group exercises or cohorts, MBA courses and more. Although it’s important to retain strong development skills for high-potential employees, first-line leaders’ capabilities are also crucial assets to ensure success in their early management roles and those to come.
2. First-line leaders do not get enough attention. Remember, they are a company’s foundation. First-line leaders oversee a large percentage of the workforce; their impact is significant for an organization and its bottom line.
Although more organizations are beginning to recognize first-line leaders as central players building future management paths, there’s more work to be done. The investment required to build a pipeline for an organizations future depends on every level.
Workforce development must be hard wired to the business and embedded into its culture at every layer. Only then will a company’s commitment to learning shine through, and the pipeline of talent will flow freely. As a rule, to keep up with competitors, invest at least one-third of total available leadership development budget in first-line leaders.
3. Companies must invest in their leadership pipelines. Although succession management is often consistently undervalued in many organizations, more companies have expanded their efforts to create talent pools for key positions.
Despite these efforts, Bersin by Deloitte said the overall pipeline for leaders is still weak. It notes large companies are particularly guilty of not “priming the pump,” with successors identified for just 10 percent of their first-line leaders and 19 percent of their midlevel leaders. Thinking like a leader, coaching teams, gaining results through others and engaging people are the four most critical people-leadership skills. Businesses must ensure that all leaders, especially first-line, are trained in these four critical practices.
The ability to lead people effectively is more than three times more important to a leader’s career success than other skills and knowledge. Equipping leaders at any level with capabilities to cultivate an engaged workforce — with a deeper investment in the first-line — will ultimately result in higher sales and a stronger bottom line for the organization.