Twenty-two Ways to Develop Leadership in Staff ManagersPart 3 of 4
The Effects of the Experience Gap on DevelopmentAs described above, the leaders (staff and line) in organizations are those who have successfully completed a diverse series of assignments, especially challenging jobs. Over time, line managers accumulate more leadership-building experiences. They are far more likely to have diverse assignments, in various locations, involving different kinds of people and products. Many sets of skills are therefore developed. Staff managers are more likely to have similar experiences, in the same place (typically at headquarters), involving familiar people and issues. The same set of skills is employed over and over, although the applications become more and more complex.
The effect of these differences is substantial. One way to look at this difference can be seen in Figure 1, which is a model of how various skills play out over time for successful executives. Referring to this, one can say that instead of a steady de-emphasis on technical skills, staffers continue to develop these all the way through their careers as they face increasingly complex technical issues and problems. Simultaneously, staffers do not expand their leadership skills, despite an increasing need if development is to occur.
Line managers, with their more varied experience, are likely to see their skills develop in the way the model shows. Another effect of the experience gap is that it saps the motivation of staff professionals. Several studies have shown that, money and advancement notwithstanding, the most important aspects of work are related to challenge, achieving something worthwhile, and autonomy (see Table 5). The experiences that are most likely to build confidence and provide a sense of efficacy and achievement are those that staff managers are less likely to have. This is another source of frustration for staff professionals.
Why the Developmental Gap ExistsThere are many reasons for the difference between line and staff leadership development. The obvious one is that there is a natural division of labor between the two. Staff supports the line. But we think a major reason is the informal nature of much development. Much development happens ad hoc, following the path of least resistance. In this situation, the natural advantages of the line are realized and the disadvantages of the staff are not addressed.
It is only recently that the effectiveness of a variety of experiences for managerial development has been understood. When it was planned in the past, much development was not very effective. For example, executives were often put through job rotation programs, but little attention was paid to how specific jobs related to leadership skills. The same is true of the "assistant to" method of developing executives. While such experiences certainly add perspective and maybe teach some indirect lessons, they are generally not leadership-building experiences.
Development should not be left to chance. Having managers with narrow leadership experience or who are frustrated in their roles benefits no one. We therefore offer the following recommendations for improving staff development.
Figure 1 - Changing Requirements for Success
Next: The Twenty-Two Ways
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