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Strengthen your leadership through reflection

Thursday, December 7, 2017 - Søren Blem Bach, Senior Consultant at Mannaz

Today, the management role is much more demanding, but also much more exciting than ever before. Read on below, and get an insight into the demands this places on the managers of today and the future.

Most managers have grasped that a management title makes you a manager by name – but not necessarily in effect. This is because, as with any other occupation, it requires effort and a good deal of training, and this includes reflection. Being a successful manager is based on the manager's conscious reflection on his or her balance between management, leadership and the personal aspects. This trinity of leadership, managerial and personal competencies in a leadership role is what we at Mannaz call the management triangle.

Let's look at a few examples. If your actions, for example, are exclusively based on a toolbox full of tools of control, you are not likely to create real participation and commitment among employees. Conversely, you will also not succeed as a manager if you are super charismatic but your affairs are totally out of order. In other words, as a manager, it is about knowing the context in which you are operating and creating a healthy and strong balance between your various competencies and personal characteristics.

“As a manager, you are on an ongoing journey of self-development, and

it is precisely that development that makes the occupation so exciting.”

It is important for new managers to understand this balance, because management is still relatively untested ground for them. Among other things, they need to figure out what kind of management and leadership style(s) they want to use, what they are good at and how they themselves react in various situations. It's not easy, and you also have to realise when you as a manager need help from others who have the skills that you yourself might not have. As a manager, you are on an ongoing journey of self-development, and it is precisely that development that makes the occupation so exciting. The recipe for success as a manager is therefore constantly changing in relation to the context that needs management and/or leadership – and this is precisely why reflecting on the balance in the management triangle is crucial.

The management triangle

Just to be clear, I'll say a few words here about what specifically I am talking about when I refer to the management triangle:

Management

The management aspect of a management role is, bluntly, the manager's toolbox for control. Here you'll find the “hard” skills that help you plan, adjust, control and achieve your objectives together with your team.

Leadership

Leadership is the lever you need to achieve your objectives. Leadership is, among other things, about how you motivate and delegate and how you help your employees develop themselves so that they get to where they want to be – while also making sure this is in line with the company's goals. Leadership is sometimes referred to as the “soft” aspect of the management role, but in my opinion, this is a misunderstanding. There are many hard aspects of leadership, for example, difficult processes and conversations.

Personal

This aspect focuses on your personal competencies and your inner management. For example, it is about understanding the difference between what is “me” and what is the “role”, as well as managing your own values in relation to the actions required.

  “In particular, the ability to reflect is important during these times

where there are even more headwinds for managers to deal with.”  

New management focus

When, in my capacity as a consultant and occupational psychologist at Mannaz, I compare the focus of new managers today in relation to previously, there has definitely been a shift. In particular, the personal characteristics are now a source of greater focus. That's the aspect that many are passionate about, and it is also the aspect that is especially in demand when it comes to competency development. This is not because managers have become more navel-gazing, but rather because it has become necessary to take a stronger position and be more authentic as the management role is being hit harder and harder by the many challenges that the rapid developments bring. In particular, the ability to reflect is important during these times where there are even more headwinds for managers to deal with.

The personal characteristics are also very much coming into play in relation to “multispeed companies”. Such companies have business models that operate at various tempos: for example, they need to keep track of the operations of the core business, manage more agile projects and also deal with experiments of a more exponential nature. This imposes new requirements on managers. They must be able to operate in the various tempos where, when the tempos/tracks change, there will not be familiar experiences to lean upon. Experience of managing an efficient operation is not necessarily a guarantee that one can manage digital project groups. In that situation, the personal characteristics therefore become supremely important, since as a manager, you must then be able to maintain an overview and know what you stand for, both in terms of values and your work, when the context changes.

What is most important?

I am sometimes asked what the most important thing that a manager needs to master is. My answer would be that, ideally, one should be able to master everything at the right time and in the right manner. This is also called hyper-agile management. I know this sounds like a very demanding challenge, and indeed the job of being a successful manager has not got any easier – but that is also why it is such an exciting career path to take. You simply need to constantly reflect in the moment and have the ability to manage in an agile way.

In a reality characterised by changing contexts and speeds, reflection is one of the competencies that you need to master as a manager in order to shift positions and improve. You might think right away that reflection is confined to the side of the management triangle that deals with the personal characteristics, but everything should be reflected upon – including leadership and management.

Management is also about knowing yourself and your limitations. It is rare that we resemble the Usain Bolts of our fields in every aspect, and that is something which is important to recognise and understand. As a manager, you need to know what you are passionate about and where you shine. You also need to know where you need to develop, and under what circumstances you are not making the best decisions. It might be a good idea to delegate the latter, or try to strengthen your competencies in that area. But in order to reach these conclusions you must be able to reflect on your managerial role.

“The future is kicking in the door, and this leads to a need to be able to

operate at various speeds - what we at Mannaz call operating with a

‘multispeed approach’.”

Multispeed is a challenge for managers

Companies are no longer operating in an exclusively “business as usual” world, where tried and tested ways of doing business can guide future actions. The future is kicking in the door, and this leads to a need to be able to operate at multiple speeds – what we at Mannaz call operating with a “multispeed approach”, wherein the existing business model is managed while concurrently exploring future possibilities. This is a situation which is highly challenging to managers, because it becomes necessary to lead through scenarios or by intuition and good advice if the situation is completely new and unpredictable. In such situations, there may be few – or even no – experiences to base your decisions on, so it very much becomes a matter of relying on just-in-time decisions.

We also shouldn't forget that at the same time, new generations are entering the labour market and that management is increasingly about creating trust, commitment, and using dialogue to help these generations focus while immersed in a host of possibilities and various speeds. Managers are under a lot of pressure, and no one is capable of keeping track of everything. So the absolutist management style is also currently in decline and being replaced by a distributed form of management in which dialogues are gaining ground. With dialogue, tasks can more easily be strategically distributed, thus bringing more competencies into play.

The manager must not stand still

When everything else is changing, the manager must not act as an anchor in a sea of movement, because then it is the manager who is halting development. So in my opinion, a manager should always be developing. Not necessarily in the customary manner, such as, “Today I need to learn X and Y”. Management is a journey of self-development, with development taking place on a continual basis. This includes both the personal and professional aspects.

My advice to you as a manager is: be curious about new types of processes and the digital domain, and make sure that you are not left on the platform with a ticket to a train that has already come and gone. This is not just something I would say to managers, actually. I know that it can be hard to find the time for it in a busy day, but it's first and foremost about priorities and good habits. You don't have to reflect upon everything, but make it a habit to do it regularly and develop a healthy curiosity towards the development that is going on around you.

At the same time, as a manager, you need to maintain your focus on openness, even as you rise through the ranks. Unfortunately, it is my experience that the higher the position, the less honest feedback you will get if the healthy feedback habits are not created. So managers at all levels should stick to open dialogue by distributing management responsibilities, getting others involved, listening, and thinking in new ways. This ensures that you won't be alone at the top, but that your success is shared with others.

About Søren Blem Bach

Søren Blem Bach is an occupational psychologist and a senior consultant at Mannaz. Søren works on management development and organisational development, as well as on developing and professionalising services across Mannaz's different business areas. As a consultant, Søren is particularly keen on working with the unpredictable reality through which many managers and companies find themselves navigating. He specialises in the labour market and management types of the future, including how new generations and new technologies will impact the labour market and the management types that will be in demand going forward. He bases his work on his own managerial experiences and extensive research.