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Limited Leadership

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by John Austin in Behavioral Leadership, Leadership

An auto parts manufacturer who we worked with years ago wanted to develop their front-line supervisors.

They wanted us to teach them leadership. They wanted us to create leaders in their organization. We could sooner change the weather!

Despite this fact, the front-line supervisors did wonderfully in our courses, and they learned behavioral science. All of them tried lots of new things, and many of them were able to break out of the helplessness they had been taught by their organization.

The truly amazing part of this experience was what happened when their managers started looking at their own behavior.

They soon found that there were almost no opportunities for supervisors to practice leadership. The approach to improving supervisory skills was to give them courses rather than to allow them to practice in real settings, presumably to allow supervisors to avoid failure in real settings.

Real practice was far too dangerous, but it was the only way to bring true leadership skills into play for the business.

Managers had to learn to involve supervisors in decisions, to give them the chance to fail, to let them earn increasing levels of responsibility.

It became clear that the organizational practices did not include supervisors as leaders: they weren’t given budgets, they needed approval and micromanagement for nearly everything they did, they were not allowed input for (or even knowledge of) upcoming organizational changes, and they didn’t get any coaching from the more experienced managers.

The message was that the organization did not (or could not) trust these supervisors. And, the supervisors knew it, it was written on all the walls at the site and wrapped in everything they did.

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