In the United States alone, 1.9 million people hold managerial titles.[i] As Baby Boomers continue to retire in increasing numbers,[ii] management positions open up, allowing more individual contributors to step into their first supervisory role.
These demographic changes—along with new workplace trends—create both opportunities and challenges for those tasked with developing the next generation of leaders. Frontline leadership development practices must change to align with the realities of today’s workplace to set up an organization’s newest leaders for success.
THE DEMANDS FRONTLINE LEADERS FACE
Today’s leaders face daunting circumstances not common even a decade ago. Frontline people managers, in particular, must now grapple with continually evolving workplace trends and societal shifts. Among them:
- The meteoric rise of hybrid and remote work configurations means that many supervisors oversee a team that isn’t co-located.
- Increased focus on employee well-being requires leaders to deepen their social and emotional skills—such as empathy and active listening—more than ever before.
- The pace of business continues to accelerate, adding to the pressures of customer-facing work.
The skills needed to address these higher-level human needs, formerly associated with senior leadership, are now required for leaders at mid- and frontline levels. [iii]
To stay on top of these trends and build leadership bench strength, organizations must reconsider how they develop managers on their front lines.
RETHINKING THE WAY ORGANIZATIONS DEVELOP FRONTLINE LEADERS
Even though frontline leaders oversee an estimated 80% of the workforce,[iv] newly promoted supervisors on the front lines historically have received only “nuts and bolts” development and basic communication skills training. More sophisticated people-centered learning programs were reserved for managers in senior roles.[v]
Forward-thinking companies realize that building robust leadership capability from the moment a person assumes a managerial role makes good business sense.
Percentage of high-performing organizations that match learning modalities to newly promoted leaders’ preferences
In fact, industry research points to recent changes in leadership development practices that emphasizes growing the newest leaders’ capabilities. In Training Magazine’s annual leadership practices survey, nearly 90% of high-performing organizations pay particular attention to matching learning modalities to newly promoted leaders’ preferences.[vi]
Savvy organizations know that fostering relationships between current and newly promoted leaders is critical for frontline leader success. Research indicates that organizations whose leaders are actively involved in developing the next generation of leaders outperform their peers. For example, current leaders in high-performing organizations were 48% more likely to offer new leaders coaching and increased responsibility than their low-performing counterparts. [vii]
THE CAPABILITIES MOST CRUCIAL TO FRONTLINE LEADERS
All employees promoted to manager bring skills which proved useful in their individual contributor roles. But which ones still apply, and what new capabilities must they develop? Recent research[viii] into which skills a frontline leader most needs today provides a roadmap for executives, HR professionals, and Chief Learning Officers.
Harvard Business Publishing has identified five foundational capabilities that are important for all people managers, but especially those in frontline leader roles. Each capability consists of a cluster of skills critical for addressing the challenges these leaders face at work daily:
1. DEVELOPS OTHERS
by coaching and delivering ongoing feedback that energizes employees instead of draining them.
2. LEADS TEAMS THAT DELIVER
by using strong interpersonal skills to build team cohesion, focusing on what matters, and providing meaningful work.
3. LEADS AUTHENTICALLY
by demonstrating behaviors that are aligned with one’s principles and values, as well as earning the trust of others through empathy, self-awareness, and the ability to admit mistakes.
4. COMMUNICATES FOR INFLUENCE AND IMPACT
by strengthening communication skills required both in person and across distances, dealing effectively with conflict, and managing difficult conversations.
5. CHAMPIONS INCLUSION
by helping all team members feel a sense of belonging, curbing biases, and celebrating diversity.
Demographic shifts in the workforce, the rapid pace of change, and employees’ higher expectations of leaders’ human-centered skills require employers to reconsider training and development practices for their organization’s newest leadership cohort—frontline leaders.
Recent research points to five capabilities—that if developed early in a new manager’s career—will reap benefits for them, their teams, and the organization. If organizational leaders want to set up their frontline leader to succeed, they must focus on these five skills.
To learn more about how to develop new frontline leaders—and nurture seasoned ones—download the full paper: Surviving the Trial by Fire: Five Crucial Capabilities for Today’s Frontline Leaders.