Leaders need to be facilitators, not fixers
Leadership is constantly evolving. What worked thirty years ago, or even twenty or ten years ago, is no longer effective. The gap between technical competencies and leadership competencies has widened, and what is required to be successful in a leadership role today looks very different than thirty years ago.
For many years, what was valued in organizations was tenure and loyalty. Technically excellent employees who were with the company for a certain amount of time were tapped to fill management positions. Managers were taught to fix issues, deal with problems, and give directives to their staff. And for many years, that worked fine…until it didn’t.
As our society evolved, things began to change. More women entered the workplace. Gone were the days where a wife stayed home and took care of the house and children, while the man went to work to support the family. More women earned educational degrees and started advancing in the workplace. As family dynamics changed, so did workplace dynamics. The modern family shifted in many cases to both partners working full time while trying to navigate the challenges of a professional career and family life. Younger generations, who grew up with more choices and access to technology and information, demanded more than a stable job to support their family—they wanted meaning, quality of life, development, and a career that contributed positively to their life, instead of a job with many demands and little fulfillment.
We now have five generations in the workplace. This is the first time in history this has happened, and the differences in how we were conditioned in the workplace and what was valued at the time we entered the workplace has created complexities that are not easy to navigate. We’ve moved beyond task management to people management. The leadership competencies required to be effective today involve a higher level of interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, influence, and execution. It’s never been more challenging to be a leader than in today’s environment.
The traditional approach to leadership became obsolete, yet we still have many managers and executives in our current workplaces employing this ineffective style. Managers who were taught to fix problems and give directives are now struggling to retain and engage their staff. The workplace has evolved, but many of our managers have not. And the years of promoting technically excellent employees into leadership roles with no leadership training is proving to be a big problem for many organizations that are struggling to catch up to a more modern leadership approach that is required to stay competitive in our constantly changing world.
The quality of your managers is one of the most important elements of creating a culture where employees love to come to work. Your managers interact with front line employees every day and have the biggest impact—good and bad—on the employee experience. If you want engaged employees, you need engaging leaders. Modern leaders focus on caretaking the culture—by coaching and developing employees, creating connections with their staff, influencing in a positive way, instilling accountability, providing relevant and meaningful feedback, and dealing with performance challenges timely so they don’t negatively impact the team. While traditional managers were taught to fix, modern leaders are skilled at facilitating.
Here are examples of the differences between fixing and facilitating:
Fixing: telling, directing, jumping in to fix problems, the manager spends time and energy on the technical functions of their department. Employees often upward delegate problems to the manager and are not empowered to deal with challenges themselves. Mistakes are handled with reprimands. Very task-focused.
Facilitating: influencing, guiding, supporting, coaching, delegating. The manager spends time and energy on important leadership functions and empowers employees to make decisions and handle issues themselves. Mistakes are handled by facilitating learning and growth for improvement. Very people-focused.
For example, let’s say an employee approaches a manager with a problem, and says, “What do you want me to do?” Here is how the fixing and facilitating approaches differ:
Manager who fixes: tells the employee what to do, or jumps in themselves and handles the issue.
Manager who facilitates: uses this as an opportunity to build the employee’s critical thinking skills. Uses questions to coach and guide the employee, such as, “What do you think?” or, “What ideas do you have for handling this issue?” This engages the employee in the process, shifts the ownership back to the employee, and promotes learning and development. In addition, this manager treats the employee as a professional who has experience and knowledge that are beneficial to the credit union, and taps into that expertise.
To be effective in today’s environment we need modern leaders who have these skills to facilitate the best performance from each of their employees. This requires adapting their leadership style, asking questions, coaching team members, and creating connection with their employees. Successful leaders take the time to facilitate the best from their employees rather than directing or telling them what to do.
This takes a higher level of leadership skills then the traditional approach. Credit unions have always had a huge opportunity to differentiate ourselves from other financial institutions through our “People helping people” philosophy. To truly make the impact we want in the world, our credit unions need to build a foundation of an exceptional culture to attract and retain the most talented employees. Employees want quality of life, and they want cultures with leaders who support their growth and development. It’s crucial that we upgrade our leadership skills and ensure our managers and executives are equipped with a modern leadership approach that is effective in today’s world.