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Leading managers of managers

It is essential for leaders to treat their direct reports in the same way leaders want them to treat their own team members.

People learn how to lead from their bosses – and it’s not only through direct interaction with them, but through their day-to-day leadership actions. Moving from an individual contributor to a manager is a transition that often lacks the attention it requires, with first timers not getting a lot of formal training. Therefore, looking for opportunities to observe them in action and spending time to get to know their team members can make a significant difference during the transition.

The role of leadership coaching

Whilst managing managers might be like managing anyone else, there is one important difference —managing managers also requires leadership coaching. Dictating exactly how they should manage their team won’t help them, instead, they will benefit from advice and being enabled to find their own authentic leadership style.

Effective leaders ask questions instead of providing answers, support employees instead of judging them, and facilitate their development instead of dictating what has to be done. However, for leaders who are accustomed to telling people what to do, a coaching approach often feels too “soft.” In addition, it can make them psychologically uncomfortable, because it deprives them of their most familiar management tool: asserting their authority.

Coaching well can be hard for even the most competent and well-meaning leaders. Whilst most think they’re good at it, a lot of them are not. A recent Harvard Business Review study has seen 3,761 executives assessing their own coaching skills, and then their assessments were compared with those of people who worked with them. The results didn’t align well and showed a significant mismatch - 24 percent of the executives significantly overestimated their abilities, rating themselves as above average while their colleagues ranking them in the bottom third of the group.

Managing the challenges

Many managers are in their roles because they are good at what they do, not because they are good leaders. Research suggests that 70 percent of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager, yet managers face strong headwinds to their own workplace engagement, including their responsibility to communicate leadership decisions to their teams. Managers face many demands and time pressures. Research suggests that leaders expect managers to spend 36 percent of their time developing their team members, but a survey of managers shows that the actual amount averages just 9 percent. However, even if this amount seems low, when it comes to coaching, more isn’t necessarily better, what matters is the quality of coaching and its impact.

One of the qualities that sets great managers apart from the rest is their ability to discover what is unique about each person and then capitalise on it. Great managers know and value the unique abilities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a coordinated plan of action. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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