How to grow productive frontline leaders

An executive brief for senior leaders and Human Resource professionals
How to grow productive
frontline leaders
Are you investing the time, money and energy
required to develop the senior leaders of tomorrow?
Discover the impact a lack of frontline leader development has on
your organisation and the steps to move from having a group of
frontline managers to a team of frontline leaders
Written by:
Karen Schmidt
Frontline Leadership Expert
How to grow productive frontline leaders
A discussion paper on preparing future leaders
Who is really leading your organisation?
Whilst most senior leaders believe they are leading their organisation to
success the truth is that the leaders who have the most impact on bottom line
results can be found closer to the ground.
They are the people with job titles like supervisor, leading hand and team
leader. In other words, the people who “get their hands dirty” in an
organisation working with customers and frontline staff. Typically they make
up 50% to 60% of an organisation’s leaders and directly supervise as much
as 80% of the workforce.
These frontline leaders of today are the senior leaders of tomorrow.
Time is ticking away to get them ready to take over. According to the
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2020 is the deadline for
filling the leadership void that will be left by the last of the retiring Baby
Boomers. Of course this date is arbitrary and in your industry or organisation
the deadline might come sooner or later. Regardless of your circumstances,
the reality is it will happen.
It is likely that many of the people who will be
taking the place of this generation of leaders
are currently in their first role as a leader.
Nearly 60% of
companies are facing
leadership talent
shortages that are
impeding performance
Why you should be concerned about the frontline
According to the Centre for Creative Leadership’s white paper “Developing a
leadership strategy: a critical ingredient for organisational success”, surveys
of CEOs show they believe the one factor that will determine the fate of their
organisation is the quality of their leadership talent. Yet many top executives
are concerned by the lack of potential leaders in waiting and wonder what will
happen when the current generation of leaders steps aside.
A Harvard Business Review study found that nearly 60% of companies are
facing leadership talent shortages that are impeding performance and another
31% expect a lack of leadership talent to negatively impact their performance
in the coming years. These shortages can be attributed to a lack of spending
on frontline leader development, which the Corporate Executive Board found
is only 12% of learning budgets compared to 27% invested in executives. This
goes a long way to explaining the results of Development Dimensions
International’s 2012 Global Leadership Forecast study which found 28% of
internal promotions to a leadership position fail mainly due to a lack of
interpersonal skills.
How to grow productive frontline leaders
A discussion paper on preparing future leaders
Why frontline leaders don’t get more attention
Talk to many senior leaders about developing frontline leaders and you will
discover that many have not adequately considered the issue. This could be
because they:
believe they have everything under control, pinning their hopes on a
few star performers
are relying on the reputation of their industry to attract talent
are preoccupied with higher level, strategic issues
65% of organisations
say their managers
are not accountable
for developing future
These concerns were raised in a research
paper from global HR firm Mercer who found
that only half of Australian organisations can
effectively identify who is ready to move up the
leadership ladder.
Their report surveyed more than 600 organisations across Asia Pacific and
found that 65% say their people managers have little or no accountability for
developing future leaders. Half of the senior executives said they spent less
than 10% of their time developing current and future leaders.
What could go wrong if you ignore the frontline
Creating a sense of urgency is essential to bring frontline leader development
to the attention of the people who are responsible for taking action. To
encourage them to take action consider the potential issues if you don’t.
The costs in terms of time, money and energy are likely to include:
unable to attract the best candidates as their competitors are seen
as having better leaders and leader development strategies
risk of selecting the wrong people to be developed in order to keep
the leadership pipeline full
paying too much for development programs due to the need to fast
track potential leaders
dealing with poorly prepared, low performing leaders as
development programs cannot keep up with the needs of new leaders
danger of losing potential leaders who can’t see a career path
being distracted from important strategic concerns as the lack of
leaders moves the focus to daily operations
How to grow productive frontline leaders
A discussion paper on preparing future leaders
Where your focus should be
Effectively nurturing your next crop of leaders requires
some thought if you want to end up with a productive
team who can lead your organisation to success in
the future. You can’t rely on the same leader
development strategies that got the Baby Boomers to
the position they are now. The world has changed.
“Soft skills” trump
“hard skills” when
creating modern
This changing nature of leadership is highlighted by Ernest & Young, who
found that high performing leaders place greater emphasis on “softer skills”
such as having the ability to articulate and embody the values and culture of
the organisation. By contrast, the lower performers place their emphasis on
the more traditional, “hard” leadership skills, such as industry and technical
expertise and grasp of the financials.
In addition to the personal skills that leaders require to work with their team,
there are also the social skills that frontline leaders need to develop if they are
going to be part of a productive leadership team at their current level and as
they ascend to more senior roles. Most programs do not place enough
emphasis on this aspect of a leader’s development.
When you look at your current leader development strategies how closely are
they aligned with the needs of your future leaders? Is it time you reviewed
them to ensure your investment in time, money and energy are not being
wasted on initiatives that aren’t going to meet the needs of frontline leaders
now and into the future?
How to take action
If you want to see your current group of frontline managers become a
productive team of frontline leaders, then you need to get started now so your
organisation can remain healthy.
I believe an effective frontline leader development strategy has 4 steps:
Plan – design a multifaceted strategy
• assess your current situation to determine focus areas
• identify your future needs so you avoid a short term focus
• compile a comprehensive list of initiatives for the next 2 to 5 years
How to grow productive frontline leaders
A discussion paper on preparing future leaders
Prepare – create an environment of co-operation
• transform the culture so it is ready to receive new leaders
• create a cohesive leadership team across all levels
• approach people who have been identified as potential leaders and
discuss their interest and address their concerns
Nurture – give people the skills to lead
• deliver programs on the concepts and skills required to lead
• offer both training and development options
• provide guidance and support from existing leaders
Maintain – have a system in place for ongoing learning
• offer development at a higher level or in niche areas
• give people access to industry experts and thought leaders
• create a coaching and mentoring culture
Take the Frontline Leader Cultivation Quiz
So how do you rate in terms of addressing the issues associated with
developing your group of frontline managers into a team of frontline leaders?
To find out, take the short quiz I’ve created by clicking here.
If you want to know more about creating a healthy team of frontline leaders,
contact me via 0411 745 430 or [email protected]
About the Author
Karen Schmidt’s philosophy is simple . . . she believes that being a great
leader is like being a great gardener. She uses her philosophy to help frontline
leaders develop a more natural approach that yields results.
Speaker on frontline leadership
Frontline leadership development
Frontline leadership team facilitator
Coaching for frontline leaders
Karen Schmidt
Frontline Leadership Expert