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Developing Leadership Potential: The Essential Role of the Manager

Developing effective leaders in any organization can be challenging. And yet, this is the surest way to ensure the long-term success of a business or other institution. Companies pour thousands of dollars into internal learning centers or training programs, but lasting impact from such programs is elusive. Mentors and Executive Coaches have been acknowledged to have a positive effect, although the latter is expensive and, while effective individually, lacks broad impact.

Research at the Center for Creative Leadership shows that the success of leadership development programs hinges on the active participation of the developing leader’s manager. To quote a white paper: “Self-awareness, leadership capability, and leadership effectiveness were all significantly improved when bosses are involved and supportive”(1). I conducted a cross-cultural exploratory study in 2004 (2) and concluded that the most important organizational factor in the development of the leader is having their manager’s active involvement.

If you are a manager who aspires to become an executive or even a CEO, understanding how to effectively support the development of your global team members is critical. Following is a description of the dimensions of supportive manager behavior that cross cultural boundaries.

5 dimensions of Global Manager Behavior Essential to the Success of Leadership Development Programs

The study covered the U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America and revealed the five dimensions of supportive behavior.

  • Active Involvement in the Process – The supportive manager is “there when you need him/ her,” to paraphrase one of the interviewees. Such a manager is there to help handle issues as they arise, offers psychological support, and provides guidance when challenges go beyond the capabilities of the developing leader. It also refers to standing behind a decision or direction taken by the developing leader or offering “air cover” when there is an issue. This involvement on the part of the manager is a confidence-builder for the employee.
  • Communication of Support – The effective manager will recognize the importance of communicating his/ her support of the developing individual. This specific kind of communication takes several forms, including recognizing achievement (either publicly or privately); communicating successes of team members; communicating reinforcing messages regarding the value and competence of the developing individual; and expressing confidence.
  • Building Relationships – Supportive managers engage in relationship building at the individual and group level. Seeking personal knowledge of each developing team member and interacting with them on a regular basis creates opportunities for feedback and coaching and a better understanding of individual growth needs. The manager also maintains an internal network consisting of peers, superiors, and others that facilitate opportunities for developmental encounters or new job assignments for team members.
  • Offering Feedback – Feedback on performance or behaviors is highly appreciated in all regions, although the delivery style may differ. This skill includes giving positive reinforcement, constructive criticism when needed, and an assessment of the development needs of the individual.
  • Providing Opportunities for Development – A supportive manager actively provides challenging opportunities that allow the individual to practice new skills and behaviors. These could be in-department or elsewhere in the company. The key is that the manager has a deep understanding of individual development needs and can leverage the talent management system or personal relationships to arrange for stretch assignments, special projects, task force assignments, or the like.

Communicating these responsibilities to managers across the organization and encouraging or even incentivizing their use will multiply the impact on leadership development overall.

(1) Young, S., Champion, H., Raper, M., & Braddy, P. (2017). Adding More Fuel to the Fire: How Bosses Can Make or Break Leadership Development Programs. White Paper, Center for Creative Leadership.

(2) Cantarutti, T. L., (2005). Leadership Development Support Through a Cross-Cultural Lens. Lisle, IL: Benedictine University Press.

Tracey Cantarutti, PhD, is the founder of TLC Leadership Options, Inc., an Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Consultancy. She can be reached at tlc@leadershipoptions.com.