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Bottom-up Leadership: Develop & Empower First-Line Leaders
Bottom-up Leadership: Develop & Empower First-Line Leaders
Calendar18 September 2017

How Developing and Empowering First-Line Leaders Can Restore Competitiveness


Companies that practice bottom-up leadership by investing in first-line leaders are able to do more with less, become more competitive, and attract and retain the people who will help them to remain so. Our report
in association with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services explains how.

The transition from subject matter expert to first-line manager can be challenging, because it’s a move from doing to managing those who do, from being an individual contributor to getting things done through others. This shift in mindset should not be underestimated.

It pays to invest more in helping first-line leaders succeed at this transition, because in many respects they carry the future of the business. They have the most direct contact with employees, suppliers and the market.  They are on the front lines of the employee and customer experience. They are the ones who transform high-level company vision into action.

First-line leaders also represent the talent pool from which future senior-level leaders will be drawn. So it’s no surprise that companies that practice bottom-up leadership and excel in developing first-line leaders will gain significant competitive advantage.

Collaborative Leadership

Leadership is more than the ability to manage a team.  It is about the power to influence customers, partners and other teams.  It is about instilling passion, navigating change, innovating and inspiring.

However, traditional approaches to first-line leadership development – set in a content-heavy, classroom environment with little connection to the participants’ actual jobs and little emphasis on skill sharing – doesn’t do much to nurture these qualities.

Leadership development should quickly move away from the classroom and into settings where first-line managers can learn from each other or from more senior leaders while continuing to do their day-to-day work.  Problems and issues that arise on the job can become lessons for collaborate problem-solving.

  1. Trust is the foundation: Start with the belief that you employ people who are able to do what you ask them to do. Treat them as adults.
  2. Make it bite-size: Today’s workforce is less accustomed to course work and prefers bite-sized lessons, nudges, and online communities.
  3. Make it portable: Apps that make social networking and virtual conversation easier help extend leadership development past the specific period allotted.
  4. Make the investment: Even when the emphasis is on peer-to-peer collaboration and group learning, successful leadership development requires resources. This includes qualified facilitators who understand group dynamics—and can manage egos.
  5. Balance content with context: Don’t throw out all the old management texts, but emphasize articles that provide practical paths to creating a collaborative environment.
  6. You can’t get it off the shelf: Tailor your leadership development program to fit your organization’s context and make sure it feels relevant for each participant

Find Out More

Download the Harvard Business Review report, Bottom-Up Leadership:  How Developing and Empowering First-Line Leaders Can Restore Competitiveness. The report features leading insights from Novartis, Merck, Mercer and academics.

  Download Report
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