Whether in business or ministry organisations, team members with functional roles (eg operations, technology, finance, human resources, marketing, sales, strategy) need a little help from their learning leaders. Here’s how to deliver it while simultaneously preparing these managers for future roles.

It’s not easy being a leader.

The challenges they face today are immense. And while many leaders are highly skilled, many say they are often overwhelmed or feel ill-prepared to lead key functional areas such as operations, technology, strategy, finance, marketing, sales and human resources. They often are challenged to balance day-to-day pressures with the need to think more broadly and strategically about the organisation’s mission. This means being prepared to handle the challenges of today and tomorrow.

You can boost the performance of functional leaders, prepare them for future challenges and increase their organisational impact by:

  1. Creating focus. Leaders already have a lot to do. What one or two things can best support these leaders and their challenges?
  2. Engaging the senior leadership team. Include the Senior Pastor / CEO and Board to develop an overall leadership strategy aligned with the organisational strategy. The payoff is high, yet few organisations do this well.
  3. Considering company culture, key talent and structural design. What capabilities are needed, now and in the future? Help leaders assess talent and determine strengths and gaps. Encourage cross-organisational collaboration where possible.
  4. Taking a critical look at reward systems. Do they line up with the desired organisational culture and strategy?  Often, short-term individual results are rewarded over larger strategic priorities. Reward systems should encourage results and critical competencies.
  5. Establishing feedback opportunities. As leaders move up in the organisation, they tend to get less honest feedback. Create mechanisms to develop a culture for feedback to assist functional leaders in seeking, giving and responding to feedback.
  6. Leveraging experienced leaders for guidance. Provide support for internal and external mentor relationships to ensure leaders’ long-term success.
  7. Being deliberate. Introduce development experiences to better prepare functional leaders and increase their breadth and depth of experience. Identify any on-the-job experiences or short-term assignments that will equip them for more responsibility and leading multiple functions.

To prepare senior leaders for the future, consider the following ideas:

Help functional leaders gain strategic perspective. Extend the leaders’ responsibilities to oversee several functional areas.  Help the leader learn what they can let go of, delegate or de-emphasise to balance strategic and tactical responsibilities.  Often, functional leaders will spend time on their area of expertise and short-term results, but they can contribute more as they expand their scope.

Look for mentors. Identify more experienced, successful leaders – inside and outside the organisation, including board members – as mentors for fucntional leaders; they can focus on the most important skills for success at this level: communications, influence, strategic perspective and working across boundaries. Provide guidance for mentors to increase the likelihood of success and sustained relationships.

Article from Chief Learning Officer

Stephanie Trovas is a global portfolio manager and senior faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership. She co-authored a white paper with Richard Walsh: Leading with Impact: How Functional Leaders Face Challenges, Focus Development and Boost Performance.

Richard Walsh is senior faculty at the CCL and vice president of The Leaders’ Counsel.

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