Making the most of your Frontline Leaders

by | News

A lot of our work is angled towards the C-suite and senior leaders, with a healthy dose of development for emerging talent thrown in for good measure. But I’ve been asked several times in the last few months about communication support for frontline leaders, and when that happens, it usually means there’s something going on that’s worth exploring.

So I began by doing a bit of digging, and the first thing I came across were some rather surprising numbers.

First, according to the highly respected Centre for Creative Leadership, 60% of frontline leaders have never received training for the role. 60%! These are the people leading probably the largest community in the organisation, and most of them are doing it without any support. Perhaps this tells us that if you’re senior and in a head office somewhere, it’s simply more cost-effective and easier to train you than if you’re in some outpost of the business. Oh, and may be you’re seen as being more ‘investible’.

Next, the same study says that 70% of senior managers are unhappy with their frontline leaders’ performance. And that 80% of frontline leaders are unhappy with their own performance. It may just be me, but I’d say these numbers are cause for some concern.

But is that concern justified? This question led to further digging, and the answer is apparently a firm ‘yes’. According to Wellins, Selkovits & McGrath in their comprehensive paper entitled ‘Be better than average – a study on the state of frontline leadership’, 69% of HR leaders report a loss of engagement, productivity and revenue with poor frontline leadership, and 26% admit to losing profit – a figure that in reality is likely to be far higher. So hopefully we can agree that there is a problem here.

Their report then looks at how frontline leaders need to be developed, and what are the most important skills needed to improve performance. In it was this nugget:

When we asked the most common reason that frontline leaders fail, the number one reason (selected by more than half of respondents) is a lack of interpersonal skills. These are basic skills such as effective communication, listening, empathising, and involving others, and they ensure that leaders build strong relationships with their team, and get work done.

They continue:

It is very telling that no other reason was even close to interpersonal skills as a cause for failure in frontline leaders. Interpersonal skills truly are the foundation for any other leadership skills of importance.

And in the ‘6 key competencies of frontline leader impact’ identified by the highly respected Centre for Creative Leadership, communication skills get their own slot:

Skilled managers can communicate with people at all levels in the organisation, including team members, superiors, peers, and others. It’s especially important to effectively communicate goals and expectations.

So taking all of this into account…we’ve put together a blended module-driven programme of six skills designed to get your frontline leaders inspiring, listening to and coaching their teams: ‘The six dimensions of engaging frontline leadership.’

  1. FIT – Explain to the team how they fit into the bigger picture, and the value of their contribution
  2. VISION – Set out a compelling vision for where the team is headed and why
  3. RECOGNITION – Show how the team, and the individuals in it, are delivering value
  4. ENGAGE – How to have honest, productive (and at times difficult) conversations with your team and team members to coach and develop them
  5. VOICE – Providing your people with a credible forum for you to listen to their views and ideas
  6. PRESENCE – Deliver your communications with impact, making your messages relevant and personal