The leap from junior ranks to senior management is not a transition that comes naturally to most. But support, coaching and mentoring can make charismatic leaders out of us. By Gary Eastwood
Marketing attracts some of the brightest and most ambitious individuals, drawn by the lure of a vibrant and relatively informal environment. Individuality, extroversion and creativity are highly valued, and the best talents can find themselves quickly climbing the corporate ranks. But suddenly, the great “ideas” person is managing people and varied business problems.
Unfortunately, the required skills rarely flow naturally and, with the exception of a lucky few who were born to leadership, can only be learnt. “You would have thought that with an awareness of brand, markets and products, marketers would be conscious of what they are communicating and the impact it has, but probably few think about these same aspects when it comes to the way they communicate with the people they work with,” says Rimmer.
Nick Smallman, founder and managing director of interpersonal communications consultancy Working Voices, agrees: “Marketers might have degrees from Oxbridge, but it doesn’t mean that they can communicate with, or run, a team.”
But the good news is that many management tasks – such as staff appraisal, how to behave in front of staff, budgeting or strategic thinking – are easily taught through seminars, workshops and e-learning, while communication and leadership skills can be improved with the right support and one-to-one coaching and mentoring programmes.
One of the first challenges that newly promoted individuals are likely to face is not from their former peers, but from themselves. The change from a junior to a senior management role can create conflict in terms of identity. “In an elevated position, you have to put a certain distance between you and your staff. Also, if the environment is a lot less formal with more socialising, as it is in marketing and the media for example, it can emphasise the change even more,” says Gillian Rankin, a business psychologist at leadership development and coaching consultancy ML Consulting.
Charles Jones, head of coaching practice at Right Coutts, warns that this transition can be so significant that he would ask individuals to first consider whether management is the right move for them.
“Individual contributors rely on their own creative technical skills, but their management skills will not naturally be as developed. This is difficult because it takes away identity. For example, the act of creating campaigns is no longer yours – as a senior manager you have to create campaigns through other people,” he says. “Senior roles also bring more responsibility, longer hours and a change in lifestyle.”
However, today’s techniques are effective in supporting individuals through that change of identity.
“An integrated way of developing a leader would be through a combination of taught modules and workshops – such as “managing conflict” or “strategic thinking” – and then applying these lessons with the support of one-to-one coaching over a six-month period,” says Jones.
Even the taught modules have changed dramatically since the two-day, “sheep dip” courses of yesteryear. “Today’s modules comprise short-focused training programmes, lasting two hours, which are of immediate relevance and can have an impact in the workplace immediately,” says Rankin.
She believes that programmes tailored to the individual can breed confidence in new managers and help them to develop their own style, especially when they are allied to one-to-one coaching.
Rankin says: “One-to-one coaching draws attention to the issues managers will face and how they can draw on their existing skills and abilities to deal with them. They already have these skills in their behavioural repertoire. Another common mistake is that new managers think they have to become the type of manager they don’t like in order to be successful. But you can manage in your own style. Coaching gives people the confidence to use their existing skills.”
Rimmer believes that when it comes to managing people, practice makes perfect: “There’s a lot to be said about practising in the safety of the classroom. Bright people quickly grasp the techniques, but the important ingredient is practice, particularly when it comes to people issues. These skills then need to be ‘topped up’ with one-to-one coaching, mentoring and feedback in the workplace.”
Another way to support and breed confidence in new managers is to appoint a mentor in the workplace. “Mentoring can be very useful. This would be someone in the organisation who is a little older and wiser, and has been through a similar transition before. They should also be a little removed from the individual – not their line manager or a colleague. Individuals can learn an awful lot from a good mentor, and it can be especially useful for someone moving into a new company as a recently promoted manager,” says Rankin.
Even charisma can be taught, simply by paying attention to body language and listening, according to Smallman. “Around 50 per cent of senior managers and executives have poor communication skills, and many lack charisma. But this is because they have a stereotype of how they should act as a manager – with conservative presentation, by presenting just the facts and not dressing anything up. But people don’t listen to that, they become bored quickly, but they will sit up and listen to a good communicator, someone with ‘charisma’.”
Working Voices offers three-hour interactive seminars that teach interpersonal skills through the use of workshops, practical exercises and video. “We video people so that they can see the truth of how they present themselves, rather than the myth they have created for themselves. More than half of communicating is about confident body language, which is why we video people,” says Smallman.
Quite simply, good communicators are more successful. He says. “The bottom line is: can you use these new skills to win new business?”