Finding an answer to the question, “Where have all the great managers gone?” starts with another question.
Where do great managers come from to begin with? How, exactly, does one become a leader who is capable of developing people into high performing professionals?
Presumably, before you can coach a person on the path to becoming a high performing individual contributor, you would have had to become that kind of person yourself.
And so we arrive at yet another question: how does one go about creating high performing individual contributors?
This begs the question: what does it mean to be a high performing individual contributor?
If Dan Pink is to be believed, there are three key elements of high levels of engagement and performance:
- Autonomy – the ability to be independently motivated and to deliver results without the direction or micro-management of anyone else
- Mastery – the constant desire to improve your ability to do the job at hand; building skills, learning, and understanding the tools of the craft
- Purpose – a connection to the importance of the work at hand; this comes from alignment of values and belief in the mission of the organization
But how do we develop these characteristics in others, so that they can become great managers?
The easiest answer leads us to a chicken and egg problem: great managers are the best way to develop the future great managers. They lead by example, coaching and mentoring their teams and showing them just how powerful a great manager can be.
But what if there are no great managers to learn from? How does a person go from a motivated human being to a high performing individual contributor to a great manager?
It turns out that to become a great manager, we don’t have to learn from a great manager in our organization. We simply have to be exposed to people who help us develop into a high performer in our own right and then begin to learn their methods so we can lead others. These [answer lies in people are mentors, managers, and coaches in their own right, but outside of the typical organizational structure.
Great managers come from great managers. Many organizations have lost the art of developing these people in house, and yet they wonder why their teams underperform (and why their employee churn rates are so high).
Great managers come from an organizational investment in developing great managers. That might just mean finding people outside the organization to dramatically shift the culture.
But for individuals, the call to action is clear: find a coach, mentor, or manager you can believe in. Learn from them. Develop yourself under their guidance. And pay attention to how they help you reach your goals. One day you’ll do the same for your people.