Futureproof your leadership: upskilling leaders and managers

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By Nicole Schreiber-Shearer, Future of Work Specialist at Gloat

Pave the way for better succession planning by prioritizing skills

The best learners never stop adding new skills to their repertoire—and your leaders and managers are no exception. While it takes a certain level of expertise to progress into a management position, learning and development can’t stop there, especially as new digital innovations promise to change the skills needed to perform all roles.

Rather than pressing pause on their development, managers must engage in skill-building programs that will help them take advantage of cutting-edge technologies and ensure they have both the technical competencies and emotional intelligence needed to lead a team successfully.

Oftentimes, it’s the latter priority that proves to be challenging. While most productive employees have high levels of technical skills and personal drive, only 30% are likely to become the kind of leaders who prioritize employee satisfaction. Fortunately, there are a few steps executives can take to ensure their managers possess all of the competencies needed to lead with confidence and compassion.

The importance of upskilling for leaders and managers

Upskilling managers and leaders is crucial, both for their own success and the success of their direct reports. As teams adapt to evolving environments, managers must possess the communication and leadership skills needed to help them navigate these changes and swiftly embrace new technological innovations designed to streamline the flow of work.

The rapid pace of technological innovation is turning upskilling into a prerequisite for successful leadership. Since the half-life for learned knowledge is rapidly shrinking and digital innovation promises to transform many operational processes, managers must keep learning and stay familiar with these advancements so they can help their teams use them to their advantage. If managers aren’t sure how a new tool works, it will be virtually impossible for them to encourage their direct reports to experiment with these systems and uncover how they can optimize internal processes.

In addition to helping their teams learn and grow, upskilling is a proven way to enhance employee satisfaction and engagement. 93% of CEOs who introduce upskilling programs see increased productivity and an improvement in retention rates as a result of these efforts. Given that managers are particularly costly to replace, executives should make every effort to encourage their team leads to participate in skill-building programs to help these crucial members of their workforce stay engaged.

4 best practices for upskilling leaders and managers

While any upskilling initiative for managers and leaders will be beneficial, there are a few steps executives can take to maximize their skill-building strategy’s impact. Some best practices include:

#1. Prioritize coaching and mentoring

Coaching and mentoring can help employees at any stage of their career, but it’s particularly beneficial for new managers. Learning how to give feedback, navigate change, and transparently communicate with direct reports are all skills unto themselves that require practice and repetition to finesse, much like technical expertise.

New managers should have the opportunity to work with more experienced team leaders so they can begin learning about these leadership qualities and putting them into practice in low-risk situations. Mentors and coaches can help new managers not only develop their leadership skills but also build the confidence they need to earn the trust and respect of their future direct reports.

#2. Don’t overlook soft skills

While technical skills and on-the-job experience are major pillars of most managerial roles, they are far from the only type of knowledge that employees must possess to become successful managers. Managers and leaders must also be able to solve problems quickly, consider multiple perspectives, and communicate with both their supervisors and their direct reports.

According to Bill Schaninger, a senior partner at McKinsey and co-author of Power to the Middle, “By disposition, you have a higher likelihood of success if your managers prefer to be in a team context, they have a high orientation towards achievement, and they do not view it through the lens of the impact on me first.” These types of competencies, also known as soft skills, take time to build and must be evaluated when executives are deciding which employees might be a good fit for a management role.

Ideally, all managers and leaders should have the chance to develop their soft skills through experiential learning opportunities, such as working on a project for a different team or serving as a mentor for a more junior employee or intern.

While developing strong soft skills is essential, it’s also equally important to be aware of the common upskilling mistakes that can derail progress.

#3. Identify skill gaps before they emerge

Now that the half-life for technical skills has dropped to just 2.5 years, upskilling can no longer be thought of as a one-off initiative. Instead, employees of all seniority levels—including leaders and managers—must regularly participate in skill-building activities to ensure their expertise is accurate and up to date. In the age of AI, upskilling and reskilling becomes even more crucial to identifying and solving skills gaps. The rise of AI demands an extra layer of focus for skill development. Understanding how AI will specifically impact your industry and roles is key to identifying the skills to target for upskilling and reskilling.

With the help of skills intelligence tools like Gloat’s Skills Foundation, HR teams can identify where a leader or manager’s competencies may be falling short compared to others in their role or based on industry-specific standards. Once this missing expertise is identified, managers can pursue skill-building opportunities designed to equip them with key capabilities and prevent knowledge gaps from holding their team back.

#4. Make all development resources easily accessible

Since the average organization has more than 70 different employee applications, figuring out which tools to harness is rarely a straightforward process. As a result, managers may struggle to tap into skill-building resources because there’s too much uncertainty and too many bottlenecks.

Rather than letting your upskilling initiatives suffer from low engagement rates, why not create a single destination for manager growth and development? Leading organizations harness opportunity hubs to provide their workforce with access to coaching, mentoring, volunteering, well-being, and learning experiences, all delivered through their talent marketplace.

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The top skills that leaders and managers need to be successful

Some of the most important competencies that managers and leaders must possess are as follows:

#1. Emotional intelligence

Managers need to be aware of how their employees are feeling and anticipate how they might react in various situations. Leadership courses can help strengthen managers’ capacity for empathy and emotional awareness and enable them to develop tools to support their direct reports during challenging situations.

#2. Remote and hybrid team management

Managing employees in multiple time zones is challenging—but remote and hybrid working add a whole new layer of complexity to the equation. Managers must be mindful of who’s going into the office, who’s working from home, and how they can create a culture that is inclusive and empowering for all of their direct reports.

“We need to think about upskilling managers specifically in how to make sure we’re making where we work, work for everybody,” explains Bryan Hancock, a McKinsey partner and Power to the Middle’s second co-author. Working on cross-functional projects and participating in mentoring can help new managers get accustomed to communicating across time zones and various work setups.

#3. Change management 

Most employees have been through a lot of change over the past few years and their patience is wearing thin. According to a recent Gartner survey on change management, 74% of employees were willing to support organizational change in 2016, versus just 38% today. Since managers will often find themselves delivering news about organizational changes and initiating shifts in their team’s workflows, it’s important for them to get comfortable navigating these transitions.

#4. Data-driven decision-making

Regardless of the field or domain a manager is in, data is becoming part of every decision-making process. With more analytics tools and metrics at their fingertips than ever before, it’s up to leaders and managers to know how to contextualize these numbers and harness them to make strategic decisions.

To learn more about the capabilities employees need to hone to move into future leadership roles, check out our research report on workforce skills.


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