Three Things Aspiring Leaders Want From Their Managers

We don’t expect athletes to excel without training…or novices to become experts without practice. So why should we expect leaders to rise in our organizations without coaching?

We don’t expect athletes to excel without training, relationships to thrive without communication, or novices to become experts without practice. So why should we expect leaders to rise in our organizations without coaching?

I believe most companies think they’re doing right by their aspiring leaders by providing L&D programs, mentors, and annual retreats.

But these broad-strokes approaches miss the mark when it comes to developing individual strengths, experience, and the essential skills that today’s leaders need to succeed.

Millennials—who now make up around 40% of the U.S. workforce—will continue to play a significant role in your business’ transformation for decades to come. And data shows these rising leaders respond best to coaching rather than traditional management styles.

“They [Millennials] crave – and respond to – a good, positive coach, who can make all the difference in their success.”

–Karie Willyerd, workplace futurist for SAP SuccessFactors (Harvard Business Review)

In a global survey conducted by SAP and Oxford Economics, Millennials cited managers as their number one source of development. McKinsey data also reveals that relationships with management are the top factor in employee job satisfaction (and drive 86% of satisfaction in interpersonal relationships at work).

But the pandemic has left already overtaxed managers overwhelmed. They’re adapting to business re-orgs and managing distributed teams—often with fewer resources at their disposal.

That can make leadership coaching feel like a luxury, but it’s a necessity. Don’t risk losing top talent by failing to invest in it.

Prioritize the coaching techniques that matter most to your aspiring leaders so they can build the skills to excel and support company initiatives in more meaningful ways.

Here are three (3) specific things that your aspiring leaders want from you:

1) Responsibility

Rising leaders want opportunities to gain hands-on experience that will grow their leadership skills, but they don’t want to be left on an island. Pinpoint micro-leadership opportunities for them while asking how you can best support them in the process. Think of these as “implementation labs” in which your leaders get to focus on:

  • How to work with multiple departments or other teams
  • What it means to own a project
  • How to manage their time and prioritize
  • How to inspire and mobilize resources
  • How to employ different communication styles
  • How to make higher-stakes decisions autonomously

2) Feedback

Overall, Millennials want feedback 50% more often than other employees, but only 46% agree that their managers deliver on their expectations for feedback. Feedback doesn’t have to be constant, but it does have to be meaningful. Specifically, your aspiring leaders want to understand how they’re doing. This feedback allows them to course-correct and accelerate. When providing feedback, it’s important that you:

  • Actively coach by providing open, honest, constructive feedback at least 1x a month
  • Make sure you provide role clarity so that they understand what good looks like
  • Focus feedback on what they need to accomplish, not how they should accomplish it
  • Work with them to co-author their development plan
  • Help them claim purpose and a stake in the future by explaining or reminding them what they’re doing all this for

3) Trust

According to McKinsey:

“The wealth of literature on what makes for a good workplace highlights two aspects that line managers directly control: good work organization—that is, providing workers with the context, guidance, tools, and autonomy to minimize frustration and make their jobs meaningful—and psychological safety, which is the absence of interpersonal fear as a driver of employee behavior.”

This all boils down to creating a trusting environment in which your leaders know they’re free to thrive. Make sure your less-experienced leaders feel:

  • They have autonomy
  • You will bring them energy
  • You will balance the team with individuals with varying skills, so they aren’t solely responsible for success
  • You are holding them to a standard that’s fair and consistent with expectations across the team
  • It’s safe to make a mistake. Steer them away from perfection, and let them know you’ll provide cover *when* things don’t go as planned

New leaders need (and want) their potential to be nurtured by their employers and their managers in particular.

By addressing these needs, you’ll build a robust pool of rising leaders who are not only willing but ready to take on more responsibility and advance in your organization.

External coaching can help prepare your managers to invest more effectively in their teams. It also offers the opportunity for 1:1 career development for high-potential leaders to support their leadership journey further.

If you’ve got questions or want to discuss your strategy, contact me for a free consultation.



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