The in-between role of a frontline leader is undervalued-but doesn't have to be.


By Amy Franko

What is the No. 1 leadership gap facing most organizations?

It's the development of frontline leaders.

Many companies are facing capability gaps in mission-critical roles across their organizations, and it can take significant time for even a seasoned employee to become fully productive.

When we apply this challenge to the frontline leader role, it becomes more complex. These leaders are typically responsible for teams of eight to 10 people, and often are in the trenches with their teams in day-to-day operations. Their time is dedicated to the current issues at hand, with little time to substantially develop their teams' skills, let alone devote time to their own development.

Unfortunately, frontline leaders receive the least amount of investment-the forgotten middle. However, they should be a top priority. This is a critical group, because the frontline connects with the greatest number of stakeholders at any given time. For many, the frontline role is also a first-time leadership experience. Leaders are typically tapped because of previous results as an individual contributor, as opposed to demonstrated leadership acumen.

How can senior leaders influence these dynamics to ensure frontline leaders are developing their leadership skills, remaining fully engaged, and delivering results? Consider these three strategies:

Consistently carve out 1:1 time and get to know their development goals. People want to spend time with their leader, and frontline leaders are no exception. At least twice per month, senior leaders should spend quality time with frontline leaders. The goal of these conversations is to understand their long-term development goals, and not to solve for day-to-day operational challenges. The key to success is consistency. When the frontline can count on this time (with a minimum of reschedules and cancellations), they'll trust that senior leaders are truly invested in their success.

Get creative with development opportunities. Depending upon the size of the organization, there may or may not be access to formal leadership development programming for the frontline leader. But with so many e-learning and self-paced options available, there is opportunity to be creative in development approaches. One example is to create a micro-learning leadership library containing three- to five-minute videos sharing tips on developing leadership skills. These provide valuable information, but allow the employees to watch on-demand and short segments, when time allows. Another innovative solution is Coursera, which provides access to university-level classes on a variety of subjects, including leadership and business skills. Take it a step further by building it into the team's development plans.

Reduce common stressors, freeing frontline leaders to develop their teams. Many choose a leadership path because they are inspired to develop others and help them to succeed. The demands placed on a frontline leader can make this goal challenging for both execution and inspiration. It's especially true for those leaders who have many individual contributors. If senior leaders can pinpoint and reduce common stressors facing frontline leaders, those leaders gain more time to develop their own teams. This offers multiple positive benefits: It elevates the engagement of leaders and their teams, which creates a direct impact by uplifting overall productivity and results.

When senior leaders focus on investing in the frontline in both formal and informal ways, these investments improve the inspiration, productivity, and results across the entire organization.

Amy Franko is founder & CEO of Columbus-based Impact Instruction Group, which helps organizations develop top talent and future leaders through customized leadership and onboarding programs. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.