How to be a Damn Good Developmental Manager

Have you ever worked for a manager that consistently helped you learn new skills and develop? A manager that took an interest in your career, challenged you to be your best, and believed in your potential to grow?

That’s the kind of manager that most employees want to work for. And if you’re manager, that’s the kind of reputation you should aspire to have.

Why? From a purely selfish perspective, when you develop your employees, they get smarter, more productive, improve their performance, and ultimately, make you look like a genius. It helps with recruiting and retaining the best employees, allows you to delegate so you can focus on what you’re being paid to do, or even take a vacation now and then.

Most importantly, it’s rewarding. It’s what leadership is all about – making a difference in the lives of others.

Most managers have good intentions – they want to be known as a developmental manager – but there’s often a huge gap between the “should do” and the “do”. In many cases, managers just don’t know how.

Here’s how:

1. Start with yourself.
Before you can credibly and effectively development others, you should develop yourself first. Otherwise, you’ll come across as an arrogant hypocrite who looks at development as being needed for everyone else, but not yourself. Shaping behavior starts with role modeling – and it also helps you learn how to get damn good at development.

2. Establish a foundation of trust and mutual respect.
OK, so when are we going to get to the pragmatic “hows”? We will, but the rest of the tips won’t work as well if your employees don’t trust that you have their backs or you’re not using development as a hammer. See how to inspire trust and 20 signs you can’t be trusted as a leader.

3. Treat every day as a development day.
Development isn’t a once or twice a year event, or something you send your employees to HR or a training class for. Every time an employee comes to you with a problem, decision, or question, it’s an opportunity to develop. How do you do that? You …..

4. Ask questions.
Lots and lots of really good questions. Open-ended questions that force the employee to think and figure it out for themselves. Questions can also be used after an assignment or event, as a way to reflect back on lessons learned and cement the new knowledge or skills.

5. Let go.
I was reminded of this recently by Scott Eblin, executive coach and author of the bestseller “The Next Level“. Most managers are doing stuff that they are good at and/or like to do, but really shouldn’t be doing. When told they should delegate, they’re willing to dump the mundane stuff they don’t like doing, but unwilling to let go of the good stuff. Letting go of these responsibilities and using them as a way to develop your employees is a win-win.
Just don’t expect your employee to do things the same way you did them. Remember, chances are, when you learned to do it, no one was holding your hand every step of the way with detailed instructions. Sure, they may fall and skin their knees know and then, but that’s how we learn.

6. Strrrrretch assignments.
Other than a job change, stretch assignments are hands down the best way to learn and development. As a manager, you’re in a position to look for opportunities to offer to your employees that are aligned with their development needs and career aspirations. It’s not about picking the most qualified person for the assignment – it’s about picking the right developmental assignment for the person.

7. Make connections.
Wow, it’s all about networking these days, isn’t it? Managers are often in a position to make introductions, open doors, and connect employees to role models, subject matter experts, and mentors. What if you’re not already well connected? Then see #1, start with yourself.

8. Feedback.
We all have behavioral blind spots. If you don’t think you do, then you’ve got a big self-awareness blind spot. (-:
A manager is often the person who can tactfully help an employee see a weakness that’s getting in the way of their effectiveness or advancement.

9. Help navigate organizational politics and culture.
Help your employees learn that “politics” isn’t a dirty word; it’s the way things get done in organizations. Shadowing and role playing are two ways to teach the ins and outs of being political savvy.

10. Show me the money, Jerry!
Last, but not least, support your employee’s developmental goals with training, conferences, coaches, and other tangible resources. A good training program, while not a substitute for all of the above, can include many of the items above and turbocharge your efforts.

How about you? What do you think of when you think of a damn good development manager? Please leave a comment starting with “Someone who…….”.