How managers can help reports ascend the leadership ladder

Access and advocacy are key.

Those new to a role expect a clear path to growth from their employer, and an investment to be made in their career journey. But where does this path up the leadership ladder begin? Often, the employees who are provided with the best opportunities have the benefit of a supportive, hands-on manager.

The role of the manager as an influential advocate, coach, and mentor can be the difference in an employee’s career path stagnating and advancing to new heights. By knowing how to communicate up the ladder about your report and by providing reports with the tools they need, you demonstrate a commitment to each employee’s growth.

Provide access

Just as you need the right tools to build a house, your reports need the right opportunities to build their skills and grow their careers at your organization

Anne DeAngelis, executive vice president of employee engagement strategy at Zeno Group, said that making yourself available to reports is a crucial first step to teaching them leadership skills.

“As a manager, you need to be available,” DeAngelis said. “If people are going to come to you and share their goals and aspirations, you need to make yourself approachable.”

A Zeno Group survey found that 49% of respondents went to their manager first when experiencing issues at work. When this happens, managers must feel empowered to give clear, effective feedback to their reports so employees can grow the skills that fit the rise through the ranks.

DeAngelis suggested some questions that managers should be ready to answer. “What am I doing well and what are things that I need to work on to move up to that next level?”  she said. “What does the next level look like and what do I still need to do to get developmental opportunities so that I can climb up that corporate ladder?”

Be a coach who listens

Managers do best by their reports when they embrace the role of occupational coach.. It’s not only great for an employee’s development, but it’s also key to helping them reach that next step.

“One of my managers was a really great coach, even encouraging me to look beyond comms,” said Natalie Maguire, vice president of communications at GIPHY. She shared an anecdote about how one former manager helped her along her job path, and how that carried over into her own experience as a leader. Now, she coaches her reports to look for things outside just their day-to-day roles that they excel at.

“I take this mindset with my direct report and try to give her opportunities she can grow into,” Maguire added.

Being a good coach means ensuring that both parties have time to share their own experiences. Leave room for feedback and don’t dominate the conversation just because you’re coaching someone.

“Learning how to coach means prioritizing active listening, being adaptable to other styles, learning that your way isn’t the only way, and not playing it safe,” said Kerry O’Grady, director of teaching excellence at Columbia Business School. “It also takes a great deal of self-awareness and accountability. Becoming a partner in someone’s success means humbling yourself, sharing your wins and failures, and being mindful of team morale.”

If your coaching isn’t up to snuff, their reports might seek it elsewhere, even outside the organization.

“I know so many managers who thought they were coaching well (i.e. giving employees growth opportunities or discussing their own experiences ad nauseam) when really, the report had one foot out the door,” O’Grady added. “This is a tell-tale sign that true coaching wasn’t taking place: If you don’t know when someone is unhappy or looking elsewhere, you aren’t a very good coach.”

Advocate for your reports with leadership

Becoming an advocate for the abilities and skills of your reports is the best way to help them become leaders. This means informing senior leaders about the new and emerging skills your reports bring to the table. But that also requires comms skills to get the point across.

“There are so many managers that think they truly advocate for their reports, only to get skittish as soon as someone in leadership pushes back, provides unhelpful (or untrue) feedback about that employee, or just says no to the advancement,” O’Grady said.

Instead, consider your efforts managing up a big part of employee advocacy. You likely know your report’s abilities better than anyone else in the company. Demonstrate that to leadership.

“Showing different perspectives on someone is a great form of advocacy,” continued O’Grady. “Sometimes, higher-ups have a perception of an individual only based on what they hear instead of fact. As a manager, you should be providing the perspective of someone you work closely with, the skill set they have, and the value they bring. Provide alternative narratives to wrong perceptions or ideas.”

You’re not just a manager — you’re also a leader, a coach, and an advocate. You’re also one of the best avenues an employee has to advance their leadership aspirations. Make the most of the lessons learned on your journey and equip your reports with the tools they need to become the next generation of leaders.

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.


One Response to “How managers can help reports ascend the leadership ladder”

    Ron Reich says:

    I like and agree with the content.
    Good leaders and managers also need to learn what the career goals are for the direct reports. Not everyone wants to move up the ladder and managers need to help their colleagues grow in other areas rather than just get promoted to the next level. Daily Headlines

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