Everyone can become a great manager. And above all, everyone has a right to have one. This is according to the latest book by Victoria Roos Olsson: Everyone deserves a great manager: the six critical practices for leading a team, published by Franco Angeli (2019). A leadership development expert and consultant for FranklinCovey, Olsson has been working as a trainer for more than 20 years, even for top managers – that is, professionals who all too often find themselves, overnight, leading a team without having received specific training.
To help them, she and colleagues Scott Miller and Todd Davis decided to collect in a single volume what, after years of experience, interviews, comparisons and reflections, they consider necessary to becoming a good leader. She found six points, all decisive. In the first place is mindset, the mentality: those who are promoted need to start thinking in a completely different way than they did before. Then the importance of organizing individual comparison meetings with team members. In third place, the ability to organize the team, with clear assignments and deadlines. The fourth rule is to create a “feedback culture”, a resource needed to grow people, while the fifth explains how to lead the team in the stages of change. Finally, the book teaches the correct way to manage leisure time for the psychophysical well-being of the whole team.
It’s important work. Where did you start?
The main cue was given by a study published in the Harvard Business Review, which impressed us greatly. It said managers, on average, take on their first leadership role at age 30. But they don't get proper training before 42. A 12-year gap! In what other jobs is it conceivable for this to happen? You can imagine a doctor who says, “Try this job for 12 years, then we'll give you training.” If you are still there.
That would be unthinkable.
That's right. That's why the first recipients of the book are their own, the top-level managers. These are crucial figures for companies: they maintain contact with customers and transfer to workers, even external, the corporate culture. We thought of an agile volume, without too much theory but with all the main information. A manual. It had to be something immediate. It's the kind of tool that, according to what we understand, working around the world and meeting managers for FranklinCovey, we felt the most lack of.
You put the change of mindset in the first place. How come?
We all agreed on that. Our analysis coincided. Among the most critical aspects of becoming a leader is the paradigm shift. A new boss was promoted thanks to a mindset, effective for the work they did. It is more than natural that for them to think they have to continue on that path. But that’s actually a mistake: in the new role, a new mental attitude is needed. Those who have just become leaders get used to thinking only about themselves and their individual work. Instead, they are asked about something very different: to lead other people, to achieve results through them, to give the right feedback by organizing a team.
First of all, a good leader is a person who wants to be a good leader. They have to want to lead and grow people. They must be able to involve, gratify and correct
It is interesting that you have included, among the basic guidelines, also the rule to hold regular individual meetings with team members.
Many are amazed. Yet it is a crucial tool. If you learn to master this type of meeting, if you adopt – even here – a new point of view in their use, then these meetings also turn into something new and constructive. So many people I have met said to me, “But I don't have time to waste.” My answer is always: “It's just the opposite. If you do these meetings right, time will take.” Because it avoids last-minute problems or emergencies, always expensive in terms of hours of work and energy. In addition to the fact that this increases the engagement of team members.
With these suggestions, the portrait of the good leader seems to emerge. How can you recognize it? What are the features?
First of all, a good leader is a person who wants to be a good leader. They have to want to lead and grow people. They must be able to involve, gratify and correct. It is a job that requires effort, commitment and passion. That is why, first of all, you need to want it. People say that “a leader is born”. I'm not so sure that’s true. Actually, in my experience I have met extraordinary people who, at first, were struggling and only after receiving the right training have they become great leaders. They did not know what to do and, worse, they didn't know how to do it. I, too, if I think about how I was on my first assignment, I see a difference. It is a matter of learning: you have to want to be a leader, and you have to want to learn to be a leader.
Perhaps the people most interested in becoming leaders are also those already in place.
I don't know. However – and this must always be clear – even the most gifted must learn.
Among the rules the management of change seems very important. How does a good manager behave in these cases?
It is a very important issue because, these days, it is highly felt. Change is getting faster and more widespread. The leader of the past tried to protect the team from change, almost getting in the way and creating a barrier. Today, to act this way would only damage the team and, consequently, the work. Instead, we must guide everyone to embrace change, setting it up and practicing it first. And teaching how to turn it into an opportunity. It's not easy, people are hesitant and suspicious in the face of new things. But these days, it has become crucial.
We must guide everyone to embrace change, setting it up and practicing it first. And teaching how to turn it into an opportunity
In the book you also provide a pattern to follow in these cases, it seems very useful.
We divide the change into four phases: the first is the status quo, so-called “normality”. This is followed by “disruption”, which begins as soon as the change is announced. Emotional tensions burst into the picture, it is a time of great stress and uncertainty. You can overcome it by teaming up and sharing information. After that is the adoption phase: when the resistance begins to subside and a phase of adaptation to the new reality begins. At work you will see a first improvement in the results. Finally, overcoming change when performance improves. You have emerged from the tunnel and the results should be higher than the phase before the change. The important thing is to manage everything quickly and standing on the surface. These things need to be resolved as quickly as possible.
The sixth and final rule concerns the best management of time and energy, to protect psychophysical well-being. Shouldn’t it be put first?
That’s right. Being able to manage time and energy is essential, almost a necessary precondition to then do all the work well. But the rules are not arranged according to a ranking. It is a circular vision: each of them is connected to the others, they talk to each other. For this reason, staying healthy and having a work-life balance is essential. Leaders need to learn to do it for themselves. And more importantly, they need to learn how to get their team members to do it as well. It requires a special sensitivity, as well as the ability to imagine needs and desires different from your own.
These six rules look general. But can they be applied in all cultures of the world?
Yes, I do. I have worked in 10 different countries and four continents. My experience suggests to me that we are more alike than we tend to believe. There are superficial differences, but deep down we are alike. Between aspirations, frustrations, desires, dreams and gratification, not much changes. So I think, in principle, these rules can work anywhere. Sure, with some caution. In some cultures, for example Asian ones, it would be absurd to give feedback to the boss – something we recommend doing. You have to adapt, reinvent them with creativity but without distorting them. And without offending the cultural context in which you are.