However, this does not in any way mean that the management role has become less essential or challenging. On the contrary.

The more uncertainty and change, the more you need to have managers who not only take the lead but are also able to make his or her employees feel confident about the change. But you will only be able to do that as a manager if you understand your own reaction and behaviour in relation to the change.

The key word is self-insight

Denmark is very much a knowledge-based society with highly educated employees able to think independently and work autonomously. This is not least the case in my line of business, the management consultancy industry, in which our value is created by our people and the competences and management experience they bring to our clients.

It is therefore only rarely the cognitive and intellectual abilities which limit the development of the employees and consequently the company but more often a question of personal development. The manager can unconsciously resist change just as much as the office clerk or the factory worker, which is not exactly expedient in a time when change and agility are key words, and when the manager should act as a role model.

Research shows that it is a completely natural human reaction to resist change and to look for the safe and well-known, and this applies across both organisations and societies. The point is that you are rarely aware of your own reaction to change, as the reaction is emotional rather than rational in nature. Fortunately, you can actually train this insight, in both yourself and others. You can train yourself to have a higher degree of self-insight and understanding of your own behaviour and consequently become better at understanding the behaviour of others, which will enable you to lead them through their own personal development.

How do you learn to embrace change?

Self-insight is not easy, but it is absolutely indispensable in a manager today. You have to know your own reaction patterns in certain situations, including change, before you are able to understand the reactions of others and help them expand their comfort zone with respect to change. As manager, you have to be able to put yourself in other people’s place and speak on their terms, and you can only do that if you know where you stand yourself.

Once you have become aware that it is completely natural to resist change, it also becomes far easier to build flexibility to change in yourself and in others, and this process takes place in stages rather than quantum leaps. As manager, you therefore have to train yourself to be patient and show understanding of this process, but the good thing is that, just as you become better at showing understanding through practice, so will your employees become better at handling change through practice. Practice does in fact make perfect.

In other words, the manager of today will not only need a high IQ but also a high EQ (empathy quotient) to be able to handle the change and the transitions which are part of the everyday business for companies across sectors. If you as the manager is able to embrace the change and the opportunities it offers, you will also be able to act as role model to your employees and make them feel comfortable and secure in the personal development made necessary by the change. You should view yourself as a coach to your employees.

Do I have to hug a tree and meditate?

I readily admit that it does sound a bit new age to talk about empathy and self-insight. But the fact remains that KPIs and conventional management tools are no longer sufficient. Uncertainty is part of everyday life now, and as manager, you have to handle your own uncertainty before you can help others handle theirs. This will require powerful self-insight, and whether you gain this insight by meditating, going to therapy or working with other methods of self-development and leading change is entirely up to you.

However, there are three things you can do to help yourself in developing the manager role and thus help your employees in their personal development:

  • You can begin by making a very deliberate and conscious choice to work on understanding your own behaviour better in order to gain deeper insight into how you can support your employees in their developmental process
  • Make room to allow for people to make mistakes. It is a necessary part of personal development
  • Let go of your ego. As manager, it is your job to set the overall strategic direction, but then you have to allow yourself to listen to your employees and let them find their own path to the goal. Your role is (no longer) to dictate each and every step of the way but rather to make room and courage to find new paths towards the goal. Have faith in your employees

It is undoubtedly my last point which most managers will find challenging. Most managers have quite an ego, and it can be a challenging transition to see your own role as being a facilitator and listening coach rather than the manager with all the answers. But I guess that just means you have to continue working on your self-insight.

Originally published in Børsen Ledelse.