As a strategic leadership coach, one of my key jobs is to help increase the leadership capacity of the organization so we can grow and scale the business. The easiest way to do that is to level up the current executives and managers to handle bigger and more challenging responsibilities.
Developing the capacity of existing team members is easier and cheaper than bringing in new people from the outside. While it may be necessary at times to bring in specialized skills or solve pressing demands in high-growth situations, it's expensive to recruit and it quickly waters down the culture. Instead, smart businesses focus on professional development and training to scale their executive and management capacity.
To do this you need to dedicate time and resources. Every senior executive and manager needs to carve out time to focus on developing their direct reports and helping them grow with focus and intention. Here are seven steps you can use to work with your direct reports and help them step up their game.
1. Understand their goals
Before you give them a list of things that you want them to focus on, take the time to understand their goals and ambitions. While some of these might not fit your business objectives, it's important to really know what is driving your direct and what they want to achieve. In many cases, you'll find solid alignment with your objectives. In either case, taking the time and listening to them will make them feel heard and feel like an equal partner in the process. This drives commitment and dedication.
2. Establish desired outcomes
One of the key things I learned as a manager is to stop focusing on the "how" to do things and instead focus on "what" I wanted to achieve. Getting clear and agreeing on the desired outcome and definition of success gets everyone on the same page. Letting them figure out the process and steps will give them control and commitment to the process. Let them lead and give them feedback as needed and only when they ask for it.
3. Clarify success metrics
Along with the desired outcomes, it's helpful to add some key metrics and targets. If they are working on improving their public speaking, counting "ums" and "likes" is a great way to set objective measures about performance. While it's impossible to define everything, having a handful of measures will give you and your direct focus and the ability to review progress.
4. Identify work to be done
Once the end goal is defined, you can then brainstorm the work that has to get done. The trick here is to let your direct drive the process. Have them brainstorm what they feel needs to happen and don't interrupt. If you need to, you can then give some suggestions and feedback, but make sure you're offering ideas, not telling them what to do. Keep them in the driver's seat and let them own the process.
5. Explore potential blockers
Once you have a plan in place, start to poke holes in it and identify what might be missing or where you might run into challenges. Focus on the elements that are higher likelihood and impact. For each one, identify ways to avoid them or ways to handle them quickly if they come up.
6. Commit to an action plan
Make sure you clarify next steps, dates, and commitments. If you want to hold people accountable, you need to have clearly articulated and agreed-to action items. Make sure you also include milestones and check-in points that you need to ensure things are getting done on-time and accurately.
7. Provide support and resources
Once you have your plans in place, your job is to smother your direct in love and support. Commit yourself to doing everything you can to make them confident and successful. That doesn't mean doing the work for them: just support them in their efforts. A coach never steps on the field, but they can run up and down the sidelines cheering.
Stepping out of the player role and into a management role can be a difficult transition for many people. If you let your ego get tied to "doing" the work you'll struggle. But if you focus on coaching and training the people who work for you, you'll find an even greater sense of accomplishment and joy.