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Responsibility for leadership shouldn’t fall on only the person with position power. Leadership needs to be more of a partnership, according to Susan Fowler, co-creator of the newly redesigned Self Leadership program from The Ken Blanchard Companies.
“We have to look at leadership as a two-sided coin,” says Fowler. “Some people in organisations don’t realise that the quality of their work experience depends on their being a good follower. They don’t know how to manage up—to help their leaders give them what they need to get their work done.
“As a result, leaders are left to guess what their people need, and they often don’t guess correctly. Direct reports must accept responsibility for knowing and communicating to their manager what they need to succeed.”
Fowler believes communication is important in every relationship—and especially those in the workplace.
“The importance of communication in our personal lives can’t be overstated. But we don’t expect our significant others or our friends to always know what we need—we have to communicate it,” says Fowler. “So why do we expect our leaders, who don’t know us nearly as well, to always understand exactly what we need?”
In a work environment where managers have two or more direct reports, each working on different tasks, it can be even more difficult for managers to know the needs of their people. “It’s unfair to expect a manager with multiple direct reports to figure out what each individual needs, let alone always provide it.”
The key to effective leadership is to see it as a partnership process and to use a common language, says Fowler.
“The good news is that we can teach people how to be good partners in leadership. We can teach individuals to ask for feedback, collaborate on making goals SMART, and go beyond problem spotting to problem solving.
“Our Situational Leadership® II program helps leaders understand that they need to be flexible and match their leadership style to the development needs of their direct reports. In our Self Leadership program, we teach individual contributors the mindset and skillset to communicate what they need. When direct reports can meet their leader halfway, the potential for achieving goals and peak performance improve exponentially.”
Having direct reports become more active in the management process can take some getting used to. After all, it can be a little unsettling when people start telling you what they need from you. But Fowler says that managers whose direct reports have gone through Self Leadership training actually experience a profound sense of relief.
“Imagine,” Fowler says, “if a direct report comes up to a manager and explains, ‘I’m clear on what you want from me, but given that I’ve never done this task before, I need clarity, direction, and an action plan on how to do it.’ Everyone wins when people have the mindset and the skillset to diagnose their situation and ask for what they need. You avoid wasted time and missed expectations.”
Fowler shares three skills from the Self Leadership program that direct reports can use to meet their managers halfway. These skills are parallel with what is taught in Blanchard’s Situational Leadership® II program.
Goal Setting. “Self leaders learn how to clarify a goal that isn’t specific, measurable, or trackable, how to negotiate a goal if it is not attainable or relevant, and how to reframe a goal if it isn’t optimally motivating for them.”
Diagnosing Development Level. “Who better to diagnose an individual’s development level than the individual themselves? Self leaders learn how to diagnose their own competence and commitment on a goal and how to share their development level with their manager.”
Asking for what you need. “This means being able to say ‘Here is my development level and here is the matching leadership style I need from you.’ Self leaders learn how to use the same language and the same model as their managers, which makes one on one conversations more effective.”
“When direct reports become better at self leadership, they enable their managers to be better leaders,” says Fowler. “Research has proven that when the direct report proactively asks for feedback, the feedback is more likely to be received and acted upon in real time.”
Fowler admits that seeing leadership as a partnership requires a shift in perception—especially within organisations that believe managers have primary responsibility for the performance management equation.
“The focus on the manager as the seat of power is a relic of the old command-and-control approach to leadership,” Fowler explains. “When top leaders believe the only people who need training are those in a position of authority, it limits opportunities for creativity, innovation, and optimally motivated employees. Why not train both sides of the equation? Continue to invest in your managers, but leverage your investment by training the other side of the partnership—the direct reports. Don’t ignore half the equation. Make effective leadership everyone’s job.”
About the author:
David Witt is a Program Director for The Ken Blanchard Companies.
He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series.
David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.