The "Spiral Curriculum" of Management Training

There are four turning points in everyone's organizational career:
(1) becoming a supervisor over a few co-workers, (2) becoming a manager of supervisors, (3) becoming a manager of managers, and (4) becoming The Boss.
The same issues arise at each level. They just take more sophisticated forms. So I see Management Development as a "spiral curriculum" -- one in which you continue to learn and re-learn the key subjects -- Planning, Staffing, Directing Others, Controlling, Leadership -- but at higher and higher levels of sophistication.
For example, do you remember when you made that first step up, becoming a supervisor over a few co-workers? For most people at that point, one of the most difficult challenges is to overcome the habit of doing the work yourself , since you know how to do it so well.
Can you remember continuing to hang onto tasks which you should have delegated -- until you learned the knack of giving responsibility to others?
I certainly do! In my first job out of college, I found myself in charge of book publicity for a New York publisher -- with three even younger assistants. I was just promoted to supervisor, in those Bad Old Days, because I was the Guy!
But I had no model of how to supervise, and was offered no training in those skills. (Over half of new supervisors in the American workplace get no training.)
The result: out of camaraderie, I treated my aides as co-workers, and just divided up the work between us. It took me several months to realize that this was neither efficient nor fair. Since I had to attend meetings, work with authors, and plan campaigns, I was staying til 9 every night. I was also depriving my "direct reports" of the experience of taking responsibility for their work.
The same challenge continues, even after you advance to becoming a manager of several supervisors, and even a manager of managers.
The problem I always hear about first, when starting to consult with an organization, is: "We need to become a leaner operation, by pushing responsibilty down. But these employees of ours just don't take responsibility to make appropriate decisions on their own."
I've learned not to take that complaint at face value.
After all, I'm talking to senior people -- and they're giving me their perceptions of the problem. They usually agree that it would be a good idea to get the "view from underneath."

A different picture emerges when I convene a few focus groups of typical employees. It usually turns out that, from their points of view, the supervisors and managers above them need to improve their skills in letting go, delegating, empowering, and supporting independence."
Interestingly, this same problem arises when you ultimately become The Boss of the whole enterprise. Here's the way one Boss, Jim McCann, CEO of 1-800-FLOWERS, describes it:
"You know you have reached a plateau of success when you look at your skill set and then look at your employees and you realize that there is someone better at every one of your skills. This is a good thing. It is also a crossroads. Some people never seem to be able to get through it."
Think about this is terms of your own organization.
Does everyone get some basic training when they move up from worker to supervisor?
Is there a "management development" program for moving even higher? If such training is in place, how effective is it? Does it reach the right people at the right time with the right skills? Is it re-examined to assure that it is relevant to current conditions?
Do middle managers get leadership training to prepare them for even broader responsibilities? Is this program coordinated with the organization's succession planning for top leadership?
Finally, do the top people fine-tune their leadership capabilities -- in formulating the vision, taking the long view, and maximizing profitability?
What new initiatives in Training, Education, Publications, Services, or Convention Programming, can help upgrade management in your organization -- from top to bottom!

Copyright © 1999 Ronald Gross