Can we really produce leaders the way we’ve always done before?
Perhaps therein lies the answer to our emerging shortage of talent and the void of succession planning especially as many senior leaders begin to depart the workforce. We can’t keep doing the same leadership development if we want real leaders for tomorrow.
One of the fascinating observations with leadership development is the idea most organizations have of putting a whole bunch of high potential performers into a leadership academy hopper with the expectation of churning out a ready-made-leader-to-go out the other end of the funnel.
Too often we have a pre-conceived notion of even what a “leader” really is. We think we can mind-meld everything our current leaders know into incumbents along with ramming all the thought leadership of our Ivey league establishments into a person to produce what we commonly define as a leader.
Leadership is not a single competency that anyone can simply learn and be ready to instantly perform. It is a complete combination of skill sets and application through experience that allows those responsible for leadership development to ascertain who really is a leader. The bulk of leadership development emerges in the trenches from practical experience and is often specific to the individual requirements of a defined leadership role.
What can we do to develop the leadership strengths so desperately needed in today’s workplace?
Finding Leaders From Within
CEO’s and other C-suite leaders have been there, done that, as far as leadership development is concerned. Should incumbents be simply following these leaders?
The best way to learn and improve leadership skills is certainly to observe the methods of current leaders and to practice and develop these techniques in the on the job with employees. Potential leaders should observe a variety of leaders in action and not just have a single mentor. There will be leadership fundamentals to acquire, of course, such as how to create a compelling, meaningful vision; being able to influence and communicate your vision to others so they will follow; and developing sound judgment and decision making skills – leadership is not for timid, indecisive folk.
Some skills and attributes will seem more awkward to acquire for certain individuals than others. It is absolutely essential for emerging leaders to nurture their own, distinctly unique personal brand of leadership. They can learn the skills from others but becoming a leader is very individual.
Finding one’s style of leadership is a growing experience and one of introspection and personal development. Leadership is a trial and error encounter and potential leaders must remember they will fail many times and make mistakes. Leadership is not for the faint of heart.
Leadership will always come to the forefront in a time of need or crisis. That’s when someone manifests real leadership skills. Don’t hesitate to put someone in charge of an innovative project who would normally not be considered for the experience to see how they work things out.
Leadership development is an active, roll up the sleeves, doing experience.
Do we really need a title or label in order to become a leader? Should we only be developing those who have been classified as “high potential”? The concept behind the business bestseller “The Leader Who Had No Title” by Robin Sharma suggests this should not be the case.
Be on the look-out, like any scout, for those who display talent in a variety of areas, and seem to be able to collaborate and enlist the abilities of others to achieve a common goal. These are the innovators, people who have a vision for a product or service and have passion enough to see it through.
Try out different collaborative tools to help share knowledge and learn together while building consensus on design and development of products and services. From Instant Messaging, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and Google Docs as well as proprietary collaboration systems, people will gravitate to the tools they are most comfortable with. Leaders need to be exemplary in using the latest collaborative tools, technology and software that enables them to connect and develop others.
Real leaders are always improving and developing themselves because they have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and wanting to understanding everything there is about their expertise or whatever they are passionate about.
How can we retain the talent in our workplaces? The reality is you can never bottle up and let talent simply sit and ferment. You can only open up the bottle and unleash talent within your organization.
Leadership is about leading the way with creativity throughout the entire company.
Truly Sustainable Succession Planning
According to a succession planning webinar conducted by the National Association of Corporate Directors only 52% of corporate leader participants had a formal succession plan in place; 44% had no formal plan in place and 5% didn’t know. But on a contingency basis 74% indicated they at least had a plan in place in case the CEO was unable to continue in their role.
This clearly shows organizations need candid conversations with their CEO well before exit plans or retirement are being considered.
Knowing in advance when a leader is planning to leave and getting others within to the stage of taking over, requires targeting potential candidates well in advance and trying them out for size in some capacity before assuming they are the final incumbent.
However, it is more important to get beyond “replacement” planning and letting succession planning be about developing a pool of leaders who will work together to lead and sustain the growth and potential of the organization.
Before leaving GE, Jack Welch, the former CEO once said, “From now on, choosing my successor is the most important decision I’ll make. It occupies a considerable amount of thought almost every day.”
Developing leaders within any organization also needs to be top of mind, for the longevity of the company as well as for succession planning.
Growing leaders in any organization requires going beyond just the high potentials and creating opportunities for leadership in all of our employees in their various roles. It’s about giving permission for each person to develop their innate and job related talents to the highest capacity possible. Leadership needs to be an everyday focus where each employee is given the chance to lead some initiative to success through the efforts of others around them.
Peter Drucker once said, “leadership was about doing the right things”. Leadership development is about ensuring we develop leaders the right way.
Question: How are you developing leadership strength in your organization?
Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.