Summer School Series: Driving Leadership with Both Hands on the Wheel
Most organizations will tell you they spend significant time and resources developing and preparing employees for leadership. Businesses regularly invest in guidelines for achieving performance, management metrics, recommended readings and maybe even executive coaching. Make no mistake about it, organizational leadership is taken seriously. There is no area of U.S. trade or commerce where leadership is not identified as a major component of success. So why don't we experience better R.O.I. from our efforts to cultivate the leadership our businesses require?
Leadership and management go hand in hand, AND they are routinely mistaken for one another. Here are some useful comparisons:
- Oriented to achieving change.
- Goal is to help others to reach their highest potential.
- Focuses on determining the vision and the strategy needed to achieve it.
- Understands personal strengths/weaknesses and is motivated to learn from them.
- Focuses on people and relationships.
- Leaders tend to have followers.
- Oriented to adapting to and navigating change.
- Goal is to become personally empowered.
- Focus is geared toward execution and implementation of stated vision.
- Often avoids perceived risks, attracted to situations which highlight personal strengths.
- Focuses on work and processes.
- Managers tend to have subordinates.
Of course, there are leaders who have good management skills, and there are certainly managers who provide quality leadership. However, the main characteristics between leadership and management reflect very different attributes. It is important to be aware of that difference.
There are three ways to bring leadership into an organization.
- You can hire it (go out and recruit the next executive VP),
- You can contract it (bring in a subject matter expert to drive an important initiative),
- Or you can plant it, feed it, and grow it at home.
Now there will be situations where the first two options are preferable, but for the most part, the majority of businesses choose to "grow their own." Why? Well, it can be more economically feasible, and if we move forward with a current employee, we are dealing with a known entity. We know these people. There are strategic reasons to support our decisions to promote from within when we can.
However, many organizations fall short of their leadership development goals based on how they identify employees for leadership, how they move people forward in the process and how they prepare them (or don't prepare them) along the way.
There are many ways organizations move employees into areas of leadership. Let's take a look at some common leadership development plans that rarely succeed.The Peter Principle
: We've all heard of this concept (probably because it is fairly commonplace). The Peter Principle states that in many organizations, employees are promoted so long as they continue to work competently. At some point, they are promoted to a position where they are no longer competent and there they encounter stagnation, and they are unable to move forward.
Well, what would happen if the organization made certain to provide the employee with the needed tools to succeed before he/she was promoted? Many organizations continue to move employees into areas of leadership based on technical expertise or seniority, without providing the employee with the tools needed to successfully obtain results through others. When the position the employee is promoted to requires actual leadership experience, the rate of failure is even higher.The Great Guy/Great Gal
: We often encounter the Great Guy, or the Great Gal. These are wonderful people that executive management cannot live without. Their careers are characterized by extreme loyalty to their supervisors. They are dedicated, "Uber-helpful" and volunteer for everything. They also tend to be highly compliant and are more comfortable with clearly defined parameters. These employees are often selected for positions of leadership based on their superb people-relating skills. While they make everyone feel wonderful, they just don't have the "leadership gene."
They deserve recognition. They deserve rewards. AND they do not deserve to be thrust into positions of leadership because they are nice people.
Selection is the culprit here. Rather than promoting an employee to a position of leadership as a form of reward, the concept of fit must be taken into account. The highly compliant and cooperative personality is often a poor fit for the out-of-the-box thinking and difficult decision making required of leaders.You're Just Like Me!
From time to time, an employee is launched on to the leadership track because a member of the executive team highly identifies with the personal or societal attributes the employee demonstrates. If the employee is demonstrating a talent for motivating others and approaches work from a global perspective, then no harm done.
If the employee's greatest claim to fame is sharing an interest, political outlook, or same-club affiliation with the executive, then we are back to a selection problem. Other employees will be loathe to follow a colleague that has been perceived as being tapped for leadership based on familiarity or other non-work related identification with senior executives.Just Follow My Lead
: Many things can go awry when we assume that our future leaders are getting all of the leadership instruction they need just by watching senior management. First of all, this is a great way to pass along less than effective methods. Second, observation is no substitute for a dedicated program which exercises personal strengths and exposes individual areas for development.
Many organizations are blessed with senior executives who possess great track records as successful leaders and great people motivators. We assume that those skills can be observed, absorbed and implemented – just by participating in the same company environment. No, it does not work that way. Leadership skills are not effectively developed in a vacuum.
Enough of what does not work! Let's take a look at some leadership development initiatives which provide desired results.Mindful Selection
It is critical to bring a raised consciousness to the task of selecting employees for leadership development. The raw material has to be there.
An employee that is being considered for leadership development training should have a demonstrated track record that includes the following:
- Providing creative solutions to problems with "out-of-the-box" thinking.
- Demonstrates a natural attraction and comfort level with new concepts.
- Has a dedication to self-learning; educates self with independent readings and seeks self improvement.
- Does not take failure personally, but is resilient and self-motivated.
- Shows an entrepreneurial work style, practices high ownership and accountability.
- Is attracted to the people side of the business, maintains relationships and reaches out to colleagues and customers alike.
- Sees people as the potential solution, not the problem.
An employee who demonstrates the characteristics above, represents more of a natural fit for leadership than those individuals who prefer the predictable and the routine. When we are considering an individual for leadership development, we should pay close attention to what they are attracted to, and where we routinely see them show up.Programs Based on Best Practices
Whether you decide to send your potential leaders to an established program, or decide to develop a curriculum in-house, make sure the material is up-to-date and comprehensive. The individual leading the program should be well versed and experienced in human behavior and adult leaning concepts. If a development program is good enough for your people, then it should be good enough to be thoroughly vetted and examined.Participation and Opportunity to Contribute
The leadership muscle will not grow strong if it is never exercised. Leadership programs need to be augmented by real life experience for the participants. Make sure to include leadership trainees in discussions and think-tanks where they will be exposed to meaningful dialogue and be allowed to participate. Delegate projects for their management. Encourage them. Challenge them.Executive Coaching
Executive coaching is a proven venue for leadership development. The coaching environment is an effective and comprehensive path for self improvement. The confidential setting allows individuals to examine and act upon areas they find challenging, while the process provides a guided approach to achieving personal development goals.
That being said, a successful coaching experience is dependent on the dedication and discipline of the person being coached. Individuals who can relate to learning from mistakes and trying new behaviors make the best candidates for executive coaching.Succession Planning
Ah, succession planning. We see the task continually put off and avoided. And that is understandable. After all, succession planning is all about certain people either leaving or no longer being around. It's about replacing current leaders, and that is not always a pleasant dialogue.
Here are some important points for consideration:
- Where will you acquire the qualified people to take over when the current generation of executives retires?
- What areas of the business will require continuity and the development of talent to maintain current productivity?
- How does an organization prepare for the future of the business without some plan that will ensure that key positions will be manned by people who can lead?
Organizations with a succession plan in place drive development for upcoming executives because they already know the skill sets and experience that will be needed. They have a design in place which supports the survival of the business. Not having a succession plan in place is like taking that beautiful sports car out on the highway with no auto insurance. Who does that?
Developing future leaders is the most important initiative an organization will ever undertake. Do natural leaders ever spontaneously rise to the top and cheerfully take up the leadership role? It's been known to happen. But why leave the future to chance? Drive your leadership development with purpose and determination. It's not too late to begin your company leadership strategy. Start with that first important conversation with your talented employee: "Where do you see yourself in the next five years?"
Melissa McDaniel is the Director of Human Resources Consulting for the firm's MKSH People
division. We maximize human capital opportunities for our clients through customized workforce strategy implementation and effective leadership training. For more information on how our human capital experts can create powerful performance drivers for your people and your business, please contact Melissa at 301-662-2400 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org