Over the last month, I’ve been thinking more and more about the importance of managers to the success of organisations. In part, this was driven by questions from Jay Cross about 21st century leadership and also from meeting two senior HR Directors who had invested in the development of senior leadership teams. Their thinking was familiar and ties into the belief that leadership development is the most pressing need in organisations. Our Learning Trends Index has consistently show Leadership development at the top of the learning and development agenda. In the last survey management performance had increased by 20% and was regarded as the second most pressing need, but still significantly below leadership development.

Key areas of focus for L&D in six months from May 11

Leadership development is seen as the way to drive performance in an organisation. After all, if our leaders are working effectively then the organisation will follow. For L&D it is also natural that you want to work with the senior team. Yet the experience of the two HR Directors was contrary, both development programs were deemed a success by the participants, but nothing has changed in their organisations. They have run into the quicksand of day-to-day management issues and a need for further changes to be thought through and delivered. Quite simply, they haven’t got the capacity or agility built into the organisation to effect the required changes.

Pace, agility and an ability to manage in an uncertain environment are critical at all levels in an organisation and perhaps before we set-off on developing senior leadership we’d do better to prepare front-line and middle managers so that they can be effective in this climate.

This will release huge potential in an organisation to support the senior leadership team, it will push change from below and it will mean that when the senior leadership team want to initiate change the organisation is able and ready to respond.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but if we start by developing the performance of managers we’ll free up and enable our leaders to make a significant difference to the performance of the organisation,