Basic Skills for New Managers: What Matters Most | SOS Podcast

Basic Skills for New Managers: What Matters Most | SOS Podcast
The skills used to identify and select employees for promotion into management roles share little in common with those required for success as a supervisor or manager. For success, managers must have the ability to get work done through others. This isn’t a function of management, but a byproduct of leadership. In this episode, Steve Keating shares his perspective on the skills that matter most for new or recently promoted managers.


Episode Transcript



Joe White (00:00):
Hello, and thank you for joining us today. If you're a new supervisor or a new foreman, one of the questions that I'd like to leave you with, or at least start this conversation with is, how well prepared are you for dealing with the people sort of issues involving your job. Again, how prepared do you feel for dealing with the people challenges involving your job?

Hello, and thank you again for joining us today. My name is Joe White and I'm the host of Supervisor Skills, Secrets of Success. As the name implies, the SOS podcast series is 100% intended for the ongoing development of front-line managers. With each episode, we're going to take on a topic of interest and interview a subject matter expert, for the benefit of our listeners.

In today's episode, we're going to talk about the basics of leadership, and in particular for new or recently assigned managers. My guest today is Steve Keating. He's with Lead Today. I know he's a published author and he is absolutely an expert in this area. Again, I welcome you, Steve, and I thank you for joining us today.

Steve Keating (01:10):
Well, thank you, Joe. I appreciate the opportunity. Looking forward to our conversation.

Joe White (01:13):
Absolutely. If you would, how about just give us a little bit of an update about who you are, what you do and a little bit about your background. I think that would sort of help get us started today with this topic.

Steve Keating (01:27):
Okay. Well, I've been around a while, I'm a seasoned veteran, I think is the nice way to say it at my age.

Joe White (01:35):
I like that.

Steve Keating (01:36):
Yeah, and I've been involved in leadership for many years as well. I actually got my start in the training industry, working for a little-known company called Dale Carnegie Training, which is really actually one of the largest all over the world development organizations, and primarily doing sales training.

I really got involved in the leadership side of it when I realized that one of the biggest struggles in the area of sales was that most sales leaders were promoted from the sales ranks and given this title of leader or sales manager, and then sent on their way, with no real leadership development opportunities presented to them. That was a huge challenge, and that caused me to kind of transition into the leadership area, where I really today, try to help people, especially the younger leaders.

I say on my website that I'm trying to help develop the next generation of leaders. And 85% of people moved into a leadership position, received no formal leadership training, and they struggled throughout their careers for that. I really do try to help alleviate some of those challenges. I enjoy it because leadership is about people, and I enjoy working with people.

Joe White (02:54):
Hearing you talk about how you found your way into the area of the competence of leadership, I think about my journey. At one point I lived in Virginia Beach, Virginia. There was a saying there that no one is from Virginia Beach, Virginia. You move there, you transition there. It's interesting that in my journey, I started in safety.

One of the things I quickly learned and it was reinforced throughout my career, is that in many instances, what was missing in safety was leadership. I've sort of morphed and transitioned from a more pure safety background, now to spending almost all my time in leadership. So I think we certainly have something in common in that pathway, so that's interesting.

Steve Keating (03:45):
Well, we don't have to look real far today to see a lack of leadership, pretty much anywhere we look. It's a huge challenge and limits the growth potential for most organizations.

Joe White (03:57):
Yeah, absolutely. Well, the work that we do and the audience that we reach, we really target and work with those that are broadly classified as the "industrial" industries, some have historically called them "blue-collar" industries. So it's construction, mining and transportation, those sorts of industries. As you think about the topic that we're going to dive into today, in the context of the workplace, that sort of work environment, what is leadership?

Steve Keating (04:31):
Well, that's a great question, and to me, in any kind of work environment, but particularly where people are more of a blue-collar worker. Sometimes people don't think that part of our workforce really needs leadership, but they do. Any human being needs leadership. In that context to me, leadership looks like vision casting, giving people a vision of a fulfilling future, and including them in that picture, letting them know what their role is.

We all kind of have a basic human need to matter, to know that what we're doing makes a difference, and to me, that's what leadership does. It's what let us know that I'm just not going to work from seven to five or seven to four, and collecting a paycheck and going home and divvying it up amongst my creditors. I'm doing something more than that. That what I do matters. In fact, I matter, and to me, that's leadership in the workplace. To keep people motivated and engaged in growing, to reach their full potential. To me, wild success is not making a ton of money. It's not what you do in your life. It's how you do it.

Joe White (05:53):

Steve Keating (05:54):
In this context, I think leadership is helping people realize that whatever they're doing, they can be the best at it, and that will make them a tremendous success.

My dad used to say, "I don't really care what you do for a living. If you grow up and be a ditch digger, just be the best ditch digger you can be. And you'll be a tremendous success."

Joe White (06:14):
Yeah, that's great advice. I'm reminded of a quote from Ronald Reagan: "The greatest leader is not necessarily the one that does the greatest things. He's the one that gets the people to do the greatest things." I want to ask you, is there a correlation between this quote and the role of that front-line manager or supervisor or foreman? Is there a correlation between this quote and their roles? If so, what is it?

Steve Keating (06:49):
Well, I would say there absolutely is a correlation. First, when we think of leadership, we almost default to the leader in the organization is the person at the top of the organization.

That may or may not be true, but the reality is that 85% of leadership comes from the middle of an organization. 85% of the motivation, of the decision-making, of the training and development, comes from the middle of an organization.

Those are the critical group of people -- the middle managers, if you will -- who are responsible for helping ordinary people achieve extraordinary results. So I think there's a huge correlation there. We hopefully hire people with the right skill set, but what middle managers, and especially the front-line supervisors, need to do is draw out those skills from that group of people to produce extraordinary results. That's a skill. If they're capable of doing that, then you have what, John Maxwell, a wonderful leadership author, would describe as... you have an effect, the law of explosive growth.

That's when an organization can really, really grow. When those middle managers and front-line supervisors are able to elicit all of the strengths of their people, to bear on that vision and goals of the organization.

Joe White (08:28):
Yeah, it's interesting. I had a guy one time tell me, he said, "I can't really tell you what leadership is, but I know what it looks like."

I think about in my career, some of the most effective leaders that I've seen didn't have title or authority. They were rank and file. They were part of the workforce, and yet everybody looked at them with great respect, and their voice carried a tremendous amount of weight. When I think about that, there's a huge message in that for me.

I think as we talk about the role of the front-line manager, and why leadership is really so critical to them, this suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. I think it gives companies looking for opportunities to really improve and make the changes that are needed to remain competitive, especially post-COVID. I think it's very important.

Steve Keating (09:21):
Well, I would wholeheartedly agree with that. I think that the challenge... Here's a thought that I have too. So many companies are hiring good, young, talented Gen Z workers. The early 20-year-olds coming into the workplace, they hire the right people. They have a lot of skills, a lot of potential, but they are being managed by someone who's been given no leadership training at all.

Those young people, the more talented they are, the more potential they have, the more likely they are to become a flight risk from your organization because they're not being led correctly.

And it becomes kind of a downward spiral. It is important to lead your best people, with your best people, in order to grow your industry. I think that's going to be your business, and that's going to be even more important as we move forward in the workforce, the demographic changes to a younger and younger demographic.

Joe White (10:29):
Yeah. One of the things that I've seen a number of times with company owners is they invest a tremendous amount of money in leadership development for their executives and their senior managers. But they rely on management skills and management practices, and in many cases, some are very, very, very steeped in tradition with those middle managers and their front-line managers. I think it's interesting that they recognize a need for leadership at the top, but they don't necessarily recognize a need for it in the middle, or at that point of interface with employees.

Steve Keating (11:04):
Well, that's true. I think they don't realize that they really studied their organization where most of the leadership takes place.

Nothing against the most senior executives in an organization, but the fact is most of the critical decisions, the daily decisions that keep the company moving forward, are made at the middle management level.

Clearly, some of the bigger, more expensive risk potential decisions are made higher up, but the day-to-day running of the business is taking place at that middle management level, and the investment in that tier of leadership is woefully small.

Joe White (11:46):
Wow, that's incredible. So, we've talked a little bit about leadership and we've touched on management. I want to break those apart. I want to ask you, in your opinion, how does leadership differ from management?

Steve Keating (12:04):
One of my favorite questions. I start every single leadership workshop that I do, discussing the clear differences between the two. I would say this, that if you're in a leadership position, responsible for growing people, for leading people, trying to manage people, that fully 90% of what you would describe as a people issue or a personnel issue, comes from a result of you, in a leadership position, trying to manage another human being.

Which is emotionally impossible. People refuse to be managed. They insist on being led. We need to understand the difference because we manage unemotional things. We manage budgets, we manage inventories, we manage plans. We manage buildings. We manage properties. We manage those kinds of things, but people need to be led. People need to feel as though they are emotionally invested in the organization, that they matter, that they have an impact on the organization.

When we try to manage people and treat them as the equivalent of a copier or a computer, they respond as managed things. They're never going to be fully engaged in the organization. They're never going to feel as though they have a career or direction in the organization. They're going to go to work. They're going to probably do their job. They're going to do their job and provide as much benefit to the company or as little benefit as required to keep their job... which is probably fair enough, since the company is investing a small amount as possible to keep them employed as they can. So it seems to work out fair.

When we lead people, they become engaged in the organization and invested in the organization. I tell people all the time, you might be able to tell, I'm rather passionate about this part. If you invest in your people, your people will invest in your business. When you grow your people, your people will grow your business. If you're trying to manage people, the best you can hope for is that your people become compliant and do what they're told.

If you will lead your people, your people will become committed and do far more than they're asked to do. I get people telling me all the time, "You know what? This is just a... You're spitting words here. You're just screwing around with verbiage." No, the mindset is completely different between someone trying to manage people and someone to lead people.

Joe White (14:52):

Steve Keating (14:52):
Someone who manages people sees an individual that might not be getting the job done, and they say to themselves, or think to themselves, "I'm going to have to go and spend time on that person, to get them up to speed."

A leader's mindset says, "I've got someone not performing the way I hoped they would. I want to invest time with that person." So here's my question. Are you in a leadership role today, and you see your people as an expense that you must spend time on, or do you see your people as an investment, you want to invest time with?

Your people can tell. That permeates every conversation you have, it impacts every interaction you have with them. If you see them as an expense, they're going to know it, and they're going to respond as an expense.

If they see themselves as somebody that the organization and you personally want to invest in, they will respond and provide you with a very high return on your investment.

That's to me, the core difference between leadership and management.

Joe White (16:00):
That's powerful. Treat your employees as if they make a difference, and they will.

Steve Keating (16:05):

Joe White (16:06):
So Steve, I'd like to go back. We talked about the difference between leadership and management, and I think about the role that management has historically played, particularly the shop floor, the front-line managers, the job site supervisors and foreman. I think about their role in maintaining the status quo, and I think you touched on the point of trying to maintain compliance and adherence to rules and procedures. Why is this no longer enough?

Steve Keating (16:36):
Well, that's an interesting question and I might have a surprising answer for you. My answer is because there is no longer a status quo.

We don't get today and, everything is changing so fast. You think about what technology has done to business. I remember, I bet probably 20 years ago, seeing a futurist give a presentation. I didn't know what a futurist was, and so I asked him and he says, "Well, I'm to the future what a historian is to the past. I tell companies what, what their future is going to look like and what they're going to need to do to be prepared 10 or 20 years in the future."

And in his presentation, he said that in 20 years... So that would have been roughly now, that one of our biggest challenges in business would be what to do with all of the free time that technology has created for us.

He got paid for that. I should have that gig. It's like, all technology has done is speed everything up, and increased expectations in the area of customer service and fulfillment, and productivity. It's sped up everything we do, and today, there's no such thing as a status quo. We're either moving forward and if we're not moving forward, we're moving backward. No actions that we take or inactions that we take during the day, are neutral. They're moving us in one direction or another.

The challenge that I see so many times, and you alluded to it a little bit earlier, is that we provide our managers with a title and authority. But we can't lead with authority anymore, and a title doesn't make you a leader. People don't follow titles, they follow other people.

Joe White (18:25):
Wow. Right.

Steve Keating (18:25):
So we need to lead with influence. If we can influence people, then we can lead them. But, you just can't beat somebody over the head with a club, and tell them to do something and think that's leadership anymore. We have to give people the reason for wanting to do what we asked them to do.

I went to a Catholic military high school. This is really foreign to me, early on in my career, because I don't remember Sergeant Major Stock or Sergeant Major Steward ever asking for my permission to lead me. I got a boot in the butt, and then you did what you were told, or the consequences would get worse.

That may have worked one time or another, but it doesn't work anymore.

We need to influence people, and encourage people, and show them what's in it for them. It doesn't make them bad people, or combative people, or negative people. It just makes them people. The more we can motivate them to draw on all of their own strengths and weaknesses, to do a better job, then the better it is for the organization. And it is, I think, incumbent upon a middle manager and a front-line supervisor today, and in executives as well, really to realize that every one of their people has in fact, a set of strengths.

Joe White (19:49):

Steve Keating (19:50):
And one of their jobs as a leader is to make certain that they're using their people within their strengths zones, to get the best output from them as they can. We miss that a lot. I can't remember who the quote came from, I think it might've been Einstein that said, "You're trying to help somebody grow. If you put unreasonable expectations on them or give them a job that you know they can't handle, don't expect them to succeed." Just can't. So, we need to understand are people at all levels, to help them grow.

Joe White (20:30):
Right. Again, it's just piggybacking on something you'd mentioned around the role of influence. I'd certainly love to get you back at some point and talk about that and dive into that a lot more because it is a natural by-product, and a very valuable by-product, of leadership and just the role that influence plays. I'm going to try to revisit that at some point with you because I think it's very important, very relevant to the discussion that we're having, and the series that we're running.

We're at a point now where I want to start pulling this down to some meaningful pieces. One question that I always get, and I want to test this with you, is that you can teach management practices, but leadership is one of those things that you're either born with or not. That it involves inherent traits or characteristics. What do you have to say to that?

Steve Keating (21:27):
Well, that's interesting. First of all, I would say that you absolutely do teach management practices. Management is unemotional. It is repeatable. It is predictable, and you can certainly teach management practices. People are unpredictable, and that makes it very difficult to actually teach leadership tactics.

But I would also say this, I don't believe leaders are born. I think leaders are created. I think that they certainly have some identifiable characteristics and traits, but not all people that have those identifiable characteristics and traits, end up leading.

So I think that you need to have them to be an effective leader. Having them doesn't mean you're going to be an effective leader.

Joe White (22:17):

Steve Keating (22:19):
It's funny, considering what I do and how I make my money. I can't teach leadership. I don't know that leadership can be taught. Leadership is best modeled. Leadership, while it's not taught, it is learned, and it is learned by really interacting with other leaders. What I can do is I can tell people, "Watch for these characteristics, try to draw these characteristics out of yourself to help you become a better leader."

But, when you stop and think about people who have had a positive influence on you in the past, what were their characteristics? What were the traits that made you believe in them, and trust them enough to allow them to lead you? And those are the characteristics that you want to try to develop in yourself. Watch people, look at great leaders, and see what they do. See how they interact with people.

Steve Keating (23:19):
I remember a post-Superbowl press conference one time when... the Dallas Cowboys won a Superbowl under Jimmy Johnson. So they're interviewing Jimmy Johnson and Jimmy Johnson says, "Well, what's one of your secrets to how you built this team?" And he said, "Well, I treat everyone differently."

Joe White (23:48):

Steve Keating (23:48):
Now we've all heard a million times, right? Well, you got to treat everybody the same. And his point was, "Why would I treat everyone the same? Every one of my players is a different person, that responds to different motivations and different circumstances differently. Why would I try to treat them all the same?" To me, I would tell people if you want to find a great leader, watch how they interact with their people, and if they treat everybody the same, to me, that's far more on the management side of the scale. When you see them really connecting personally with each of their people, that's the leadership characteristics that I really look for in somebody.

So, yep, let's teach in a classroom setting. We can teach those management practices, let's model leadership characteristics. Whether we know it or not, and people sometimes don't realize this, but as a person in a leadership position, you are leading by example, whether you know that or not.  And your example is what you're going to be teaching to the people that you hope to create leaders out of.

Joe White (25:04):
Yeah, and I've heard you earn the right to be a leader and it can be lost at any moment. You certainly can develop management skills, but you earn the right to lead others.

Steve Keating (25:16):
Yeah.  Leadership involves people being committed to you. You can't force anyone to follow you. You really, truly do need to earn that right.

Joe White (25:27):
That's incredible. If a listener is listening to this today and they say, "Hey, I see value in this. It's something that I would like to do. I'd like to explore this. I'd like to become more effective as a leader." What advice would you give them? What would be something that they could do today, to go start down that path?

Steve Keating (25:46):
Well, a couple of things that I would recommend. Number one, is to realize that that leadership is not about a title or a position. That leadership is more of a decision that says, "I choose to invest my time in other people, to help them grow and develop." That's really leadership.

And we can do that wherever we are in an organization. We don't need to wait. In fact, I would highly recommend you don't wait for a title or position. That you begin to learn to lead today before you have the opportunity. So when that opportunity presents itself, you're prepared.

Joe White (26:26):
That's great advice.

Steve Keating (26:27):
There has never been an easier time to learn about the traits and characteristics of leadership. There are tremendous books and blogs out there to help you do that. You can Google that. I'd recommend almost anything by John Maxwell, for instance.

But beyond that, I think one critical difference in successful people versus less successful people, regardless of whether we're talking leadership, sales, running a manufacturing plant, whatever it is... the most successful people in any walk of life have a mentor. They have someone to help them see themselves for who and what they really are, and coach them, sometimes with the truth about them.

On what they need to do to get better, what their weaknesses are, the things they might want to eliminate. Maybe sometimes the people they might want to eliminate from their lives in order to get better. I would say that no matter where you are in life, whether you're in your early 20s, starting out, whether you're 65, getting ready to retire, whether you're in an entry-level position or the CEO of a large organization... everything about what you do will be more effective if you have a mentor or a coach in your life, that will be honest with you, and that you trust enough to listen to and act on their recommendations. I just don't know anybody that's really ever reached their full potential without a coach or a mentor in their life. I would highly recommend that. Find someone whom you admire, find someone who you see as a success, that you trust, and then make the decision that... Ask them to mentor you, and then if they accept you, consider yourself first off, very lucky, and then commit to following their advice.

The best mentor in the world, that'll do you a whole lot of good if you're going to argue with them and say, "I don't do that. And that's not me." Just listen to what they suggest and then act on it. That's the start of everything great in your future.

Joe White (28:45):
Oh, that's such great advice. Steve, I can't thank you enough. We're out of time and these 30-minute podcasts get by very quickly.

Steve Keating (28:55):
Yes, they do.

Joe White (28:56):
I just want to say it was a pleasure speaking with you today. I think you've given us some great advice. I think for listeners that have joined us, there's certainly something here that they should be able to take away and apply. So, again, I thank you.

Steve Keating (29:09):
You bet, Joe. Hopefully we made a little bit of a difference for somebody today. Thank you.

Joe White (29:13):
Absolutely. Okay, for anyone that joined today, that might want to reach out or follow up with Steve, there's going to be contact information, the show notes for this episode. I would encourage you to do so. Again, his name is Steve Keating. He's with Lead Today. Also, for those that are listening, if you found this discussion of value or benefit, I'd encourage you to share it with others, pass this information along.

We're hoping to grow this podcast. Again, we're really, really trying to target that first-line, front-line manager. The SOS podcast series is brought to you by AEU LEAD. We're a consultancy dedicated to the needs of frontline managers. For additional information, or to follow us on social media, please use the links in the show notes provided.

That's it for now. Stay safe, and thanks for listening.


About our guest, Steve Keating

Steve Keating is recognized as a thought leader and authority on leadership, he is a highly acclaimed and in-demand presenter. He speaks dozens of times a year on topics related to leadership, customer service, business management, and sales growth. He is certified by Sales & Marketing Executives International as a Certified Professional Salesperson, Certified Sales Executive and Certified Marketing Executive. He has more than 30 years of sales and sales management experience, including 8 1/2 years with the Dale Carnegie organization selling, writing and presenting training in sales, customer service, public speaking, managing people, developing leadership skills and managing a business.


Where you can find Steve:

Need Longshore Coverage? Click Here