The “Manager for a Day” Approach to Leadership Development

I’ve yet to meet a talent executive who believes that their company has a deep enough pool of future leaders. Even current leaders don’t think there’s enough management expertise in the organization. 

In the recent study “The Leadership Skills Gap,” over 70% of leaders admit that they lack the expertise to successfully lead remote or hybrid teams, manage difficult personalities, reduce employee burnout, and the list goes on.

Yet, notwithstanding this readily-admitted reality, most organizations don’t spend nearly enough time and effort on developing their leaders, especially the next generation of leaders. Ironically, making huge strides in deepening the quality and quantity of future leaders doesn’t require monumental investments; it just takes a bit of discipline and a few hours a week.

Start with what I call a “Manager for a Day Program.” As the name suggests, each leader in the company will choose up to five of their best employees, with an emphasis on those people who’ve evidenced leadership potential or who’ve expressed an interest in a management career.

Then the leader will tell each of those folks something like, “On one day a week, I am going to have you work with me. You’re going to shadow me and start to take over some of these management activities and learn how to do things that I might otherwise just do myself.”

You shouldn’t overthink this. In essence, leaders will give Monday to Pat, Tuesday to Chris, Wednesday to Jamie, and so on. Just do your best to match up people with a day of the week depending on the leader’s schedule and how they typically schedule their time. If the leader does the bulk of their financial work on Mondays and they’ve got an employee who could benefit from those skills, give that person Monday.

What about the people who weren’t selected for this program? First, once you’ve developed your plan, it is a good idea to share with the rest of your employees what will be happening. This program won’t last forever; we typically see an employee participate as a Manager for a Day for somewhere between six and 12 months. So there will be another cohort of people chosen for the next round, and that means opportunities for everyone not part of the first round. 

Second, if you’ve chosen your participants well, you will have selected people who think management is great and avoided the folks who think a management job sounds like a nightmare.

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Not only will this program help you deepen your leadership talent pool, it will also have immediate impacts on the engagement and inspiration of your best employees. 

For example, in the study ”Optimal Hours With the Boss,” we discovered that people who spend six hours per week interacting with their leader are 30% more engaged than people who only spend one hour per week interacting with their leader. And as you might imagine, working directly with the chosen folks will greatly increase the amount of one-on-one time you give them.

This also greatly increases the amount of learning these people experience. As they work through their day of the week, they’ll be greatly expanding their skills, learning new techniques, broadening their perspectives, and more. Not only does this prepare them for management down the road, but it will also dramatically impact their inspiration at work.  

This Manager For A Day Program isn’t overly complicated, doesn’t require massive budget approvals, and is quite easy to implement. However, it does require a willingness to get serious about deepening the pool of future leaders at your organization. For companies ready to develop their leaders, this is one of the fastest ways to get moving and see results.

Mark Murphy is the CEO of Leadership IQ and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include Hiring For Attitude, Hundred Percenters, HARD Goals, and Managing Narcissists, Blamers, Dramatics and More. Mark’s groundbreaking leadership studies have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and U.S. News & World Report. Mark has also appeared on CNN, NPR, CBS News Sunday Morning, and ABC’s 20/20. He’s trained leaders at the United Nations, Harvard Business School, Microsoft, Mastercard, and hundreds more.

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