Development Is Shortsighted: Interpersonal Skills #1 Reason Frontline Leaders Fail

Guest post from Rich Wellins, SVP DDI:

If
one word could describe the job of being a frontline leader today, it would be
“harder.” Growing

demands for greater productivity, more innovation, and doing
more with less have made leading at the frontline more challenging than ever.
And these same demands have made their roles more critical to the success of
our organizations.

Year after year, surveys are released sharing the
plight of the frontline leaders. While corporations continue to invest in
leadership development, there are still significant deficits.

In
the summer of 2012, DDI and HR.com partnered to survey 291 HR executives in the
United States and Canada to find out just how well frontline leaders are
handling these challenges, and how well organizations are preparing them to do
so. What we found in
Be Better Than Average: The State of Frontline
Leadership
is
that organizations are doing an average job of not only developing their
frontline leaders, but also of selecting and promoting those leaders in the
first place. Some of the key findings include:
  • One in four organizations report
    a loss in profit due to frontline leader failure.
  • Nearly 60 percent of
    survey respondents indicated poor frontline leadership resulted in
    turnover of leaders themselves or their team members.
  • Even
    more respondents reported a loss of productivity (65 percent) and loss of
    team member engagement (69 percent).
  • Only 18 percent of respondents
    felt they had a supply of capable employees to fill frontline leadership roles.
  • Just 19 percent of respondents
    felt their leadership development quality was high or very high.
Especially in today’s business climate, these findings
paint a dismal picture for the pipeline of future leadership talent that
organizations need to survive and thrive. And that pipeline will shrink
dramatically if high performers are being turned into disillusioned
failures. 
Obviously,
this is not great news. Confidence is low in our current leaders and in the
pool of potential future leaders. So how can we help our leaders be better than
average?
Stop
leaving selection to chance!

More
than 80 percent of responding organizations are relying on manager
recommendations, and fewer than 1 in 3 are using validated selection tools
(such as behavioral interviewing, simulations, and tests) to select and promote
individuals to frontline leadership roles. If you do not have a clear picture
of who you want to promote and what their readiness is for that next-level
role, how do you know they will succeed?

Give
leaders a strong foundation in interpersonal skills

Interpersonal
skills were the number one reason why frontline leaders are failing. It is very
telling that no other reason was even close as a cause for failure in frontline
leaders. Interpersonal skills truly are the foundation for any other leadership
skills of importance. You cannot coach without being able to listen or maintain
someone’s self-esteem. You also cannot build a team’s trust without the ability
to appropriately share thoughts, feelings, and the rationale behind decisions.
Organizations have to help leaders build a strong foundation in these
skills—they use them in every interaction they have with their team, with their
managers, and with their coworkers. And using these skills will truly separate
the average from the exceptional.

Coming in second as a cause for faltering leaders is a
lack of strategic skills. Expectations may be changing for this group as
organizations get leaner and flatten leadership levels. Many are being asked to
execute tactically but think strategically. Leaders are not receiving the
development or support that they need to succeed given these new expectations.
Don’t
be shortsighted when it comes to developing frontline leaders

The best HR organizations view frontline leadership as
a springboard to higher-level roles and the most promising frontline leaders as
future senior leaders. In fact, 73 percent of organizations who reported having
very high quality frontline development programs were developing these leaders
for future roles. So focusing on preparing high-potential frontline leaders
early in their careers for higher-level positions makes sense.

Organizations that rated development as low described their frontline leaders
as unprepared, indecisive, scattered and scared. But organizations rating their
development quality as high and felt they had a strong bench, referred to their
leaders as capable, confident, ambitious and innovative.

The research also found that leadership development should not be a one-time
event. Organizations that implemented a “learning journey” approach to training
and development (including on-the-job training, learning from others and
coaches, and formal training events), increase the perception of their
development quality by more than 90 percent. And when programs are higher
quality, confidence in frontline leaders to ensure the future success of the
organization grows. Organizations using the learning journey approach to
develop their frontline leaders are nearly three times more confident in that
level of leadership.

Organizations who get it right are finding ways to engage their leaders before,
during and after the formal development events with the right mix of
methodologies. Creating a culture of continuous learning in their organizations
enables companies to better prepare and develop their frontline leaders, and
reap the benefits of being above average.

Rich Wellins is DDI SVP and co-author of the DDI |
HR.com study, Be Better than Average: The State of Frontline Leadership.