Willie Sutton was one of the most famous bank robbers in U.S. history, making off with some $2 million in the mid-20th Century. He is still known today for his simple, honest, and direct answer to a news reporter’s question about why he robbed banks: “Because that’s where the money is.”
Later in life, he denied telling the reporter that, but the legend survives him.
So let me ask you, where is the money in your organization? If you’re like most companies, it can be found in your first level managers, those front-line supervisors who are closest to your customers, closest to the rhythm of everyday commerce.
These people have one of the toughest jobs in the company. Very often they have gone from being peers of the people they supervise to their boss, due to promotions. It’s not easy to manage people you used to hang out with. But because they are in charge of the people who work with your customers, they are a key leadership layer in the organization.
I’d like to offer three tips for unlocking the potential in those first level managers. The first is to teach them the importance of casting their own unique vision. Jack Welch, in his book Winning, said the most important trait he looks for when promoting people is vision. “They have to be able to articulate vision.” New managers need to be able to cast, and own, a vision of their own for how they want to lead their team effectively.
Second, teach them how important it is to get buy-in from their people on their team. Their team members have to embrace the manager’s vision and the plan for achieving it. Buy-in is absolutely essential, because it is those teams that are unified behind a common vision that reach their potential.
Third, nurture and train them. Make sure they get leadership training and understand the importance of investing in themselves and their careers. Encourage them to read about how to be better leaders and to go to leadership events. Provide training for them to help them grow and gain confidence as leaders.
Reflect on how you are doing these three things – teaching vision, demonstrating how to gain buy-in to each manager’s vision and mission, and encouraging their professional development. Do these things and you can unlock one of the biggest opportunities for productivity improvements, and material gain, for your organization.