We desperately need more leaders. I am not saying that we don’t already have some effective leaders around us, because we do. We just need a lot more of them.
The absence of a sufficient level of true leadership, throughout the world, is causing widespread organizational stagnation. Too many people in leadership roles are more concerned with protecting their own self-interest than in doing what they should be doing; helping others, creating a future vision, inspiring subsequent support from their followers, developing the capabilities of additional leaders and facilitating beneficial, effective change. In other words, they should be performing effectively as a true leader. And while I understand that there are currently a wide range of educational programs devoted to leadership development, the problem is that education does not translate into performance unless there is appropriate behavioural application. It is one thing to know something about leadership, and quite another to actually lead effectively.
So we need to become better at developing the capabilities of our current and future leaders. When we do, we will move away from stagnation toward positive performance and organizational growth. By ensuring that there is sufficient leadership capability at all organizational levels, we will experience the organization-wide benefits of attracting, retaining, empowering and developing high performing staff and managers, which in turn will further translate into a wide range of positive organizational results in such areas as employee satisfaction and engagement, client satisfaction, revenue generation, cost reduction and increased overall profitability. It’s really that simple.
So here are some ideas that may help you to understand why your current leadership capability might be lower than what your organization needs ...
1) You are not making a strong enough connection between leadership and performance.
Do all leaders perform?
Leadership does not simply occur because someone is given a title. The measure of leadership effectiveness is always actual performance. Leadership occurs when a person possesses suitable leadership characteristics that they utilize in appropriate leadership behaviours. Effective leadership performance requires the presence of the relevant non-technical (‘soft’) skills, technical skills, industry experience and education which are needed to achieve sustainable results in a person’s respective position. That said, too often people with strong technical capability are promoted into leadership roles, but they fail to lead effectively because most of their focus has been on improving their technical skills at the expense of equally important non-technical skill development. The reality is that effective leadership is primarily a product of the person’s non-technical skills.
2) You are assuming that there is only one model of leadership.
How do you define leadership?
Leadership is not the same for all contexts or environments, and so one approach to leadership development will not necessarily fit all of your requirements at the organizational, departmental or individual levels. We need to be cautious regarding ‘off the shelf’ development or training programs since, for developmental programs to be most effective, they should be adapted to meet each organization’s specific requirements. Existing programs and services offered will provide an initial point of reference, but they will almost always need to be adjusted and customized to meet your specific needs. Where and when to make these adjustments is best achieved by a collaborative approach between any developmental service provider (external or internal) and the appropriate organizational staff members.
3) You are not fully aware of the different leadership perceptions within your organization.
How do you define leadership in your organization? And how does everyone else define it?
It is more difficult to gain people’s commitment, and to implement effective leadership development initiatives, without some level of consensus on what leadership should be and what developmental activities are needed. Perhaps you should consider having multi-level leadership conversations in order to:
- obtain an understanding of how people view leadership at all levels in your organization
- help to make the connection between your organization’s strategic plan, and how leadership development will support strategic and tactical objectives
- develop a general base model of desirable leadership characteristics for your organization
- identify specific leadership characteristics at each level and start to identify what may be missing
- identify areas of concern and any potential obstacles to leadership development success
In addition to open conversations, confidential surveys can provide organization-wide feedback regarding people’s perceptions of current leadership capabilities at all levels, and what is needed to move forward in positive ways. Such surveys could include questions regarding current organizational leadership capability, each subject’s current leadership approach, and suggestions for possible leadership enhancement initiatives. Beyond the acquisition of valuable information, by conducting these ‘feedback exercises’ people will feel included in the process, and this will increase their later engagement in, and commitment toward, any developmental initiatives.
4) You are not fully defining leadership performance expectations and the subsequent objectives of your leadership development program.
What performance results do you expect to see from any leadership development initiatives?
When you don’t identify what results that you want to see, how will you know if your development program is being successful? In many cases, success can be measured by achieving your organization’s long-term strategic and tactical objectives in such areas as; profitability, gross revenues, cost reduction and personnel growth (staff size). But we might also expect to see complimentary shorter-term improvement in such areas as increased:
- client satisfaction
- employee satisfaction
- individual productivity and performance quality
- retention of desirable, high impact personnel at all levels
- quality of hiring due to the greater attractiveness of your organization to potential external hires
- occurrences of successful internal promotions, and
- success in succession planning and a stronger internal ‘talent bench’
So it is important to include current benchmarks from your existing performance measurement processes, and identify new ones, in order to create realistic comparison metrics. And it is critical that all of your leadership expectations and defined objectives are compatible with your strategic and tactical planning.
5) You are not properly identifying the difference between your current leadership capability and your desired leadership capability.
Is your current leadership capability performing at desired levels? Honestly?
Too often the tendency is to blame other external or internal factors for less-than-desired results when non-adaptive, or weak, leadership is actually a significant contributor. We need to move away from self-protective thinking and realize, as most leaders do, that since nobody is perfect, we can all benefit from performance enhancement. When you do, you can create a supportive environment where evolving leadership skill development will continually move your leaders, and your organization, forward. Based on your leadership conversations, and your defined leadership performance expectations, you could apply this basic capability growth formula:
- Carefully identify what ideal leadership is in your specific organization
- Evaluate the current condition of your leadership capability
- Define and prioritize the gaps between the two
- Identify any root causes of these gaps
- Find effective methods to reduce the causes of these gaps
- Monitor gap reduction success and make whatever adjustments are needed to ensure meeting the ideal
Everything is a lot easier when you identify
where you are,
where you want to be,
and how you are going to get there.
6) You are not using the right tools to evaluate your current leadership capability.
Are you assessing the right things and using the right assessment instruments?
Thorough assessment is critical in identifying a person’s current leadership capability and in determining what is needed to be developed in order to meet your ideal leadership targets. First, you need to determine what you want to evaluate in accordance to both your overall leadership model and your specific leadership needs. Since no one assessment instrument will fit all requirements, it is important to utilize (and customize) a wide range of relevant assessment instruments and methodologies, to also employ direct interviewing and, when it would be appropriate, perhaps carefully use a 360 degree information gathering approach. The most important point is that, the proper integration, evaluation and validation of all assessment results is a key requirement to achieve an accurate evaluation of the subject’s current leadership capability.
By using an effective assessment process you will be more able to identify potential leaders / successors when recruiting and hiring external individuals, when considering internal promotions and in the formulation of succession plans. This identification will help with your decisions regarding the retention of high impact personnel, who should be targeted for developmental initiatives, and the most beneficial content of any developmental programs.
7) You are not ‘individualizing’ your approach to leadership development.
Does your leadership development approach take into account the differing needs of people?
Since people have different leadership capability levels and styles, they will require different content and approaches in their leadership development. Again, it is best to first start by identifying an organization-specific overall leadership model, and then customize your leadership development program to account for varying individual needs. By doing so, you will be able to:
- Develop an ideal leadership definition for each individual as per their respective role
- Evaluate current individual leadership capability
- Identify any capability gaps for each individual
- Formulate individual development learning plans and monitor the implementation of any new initiatives
- Ensure that individual developmental objectives are in-line with your overall strategic and tactical planning objectives
8) Your leadership development workshops / educational sessions are too general.
Are people really getting what they need from their participation in your current group programs?
Group developmental workshops and educational sessions are most effective when there is a defined need and when all participants will benefit from the information shared and the experience. The additional value of the leadership conversations, surveys and assessment processes is that the information can be cross-referenced to identify common areas for development (ie: decision making, or team building / membership, innovation management) among your organizational personnel that could possibly be addressed through group participation rather than individual development.
When you identify existing capability gaps between actuals and ideals it is possible to determine some common developmental needs for people at same-level positions or on a department-wide basis. In doing so, it would be helpful to assume the following sequential approach:
- Discuss information gathering findings with appropriate organizational personnel
- Combine individual ‘ideals’ to develop a common ‘ideal’ definition of leadership at each level
- Identify common capability gaps for each organizational level
- Determine the suitability of workshops as a group developmental solution
- Prioritize identified workshops according to strategic and tactical planning priorities
- Identify where the workshop subject matter is most suitable to one level or across levels
- Identify the need for adjustments or adaptations to content when necessary
9) Your organization is not understanding and embracing “change”.
Are your people resistant to change?
Leadership involves some form of change and coping with various degrees of change resistance. So does leadership development. By encouraging a culture of change (and innovation), any new leadership behaviours, or developmental initiatives, are more likely to be welcomed and supported. Too often, people participate in various developmental programs only to experience resistance (from their manager, their peers, the culture) when trying to apply what they have learned. In order to be successful, it would be beneficial to evaluate organization-wide change acceptance, to identify resistant “pockets”, or individuals, and to take steps to encourage greater acceptance. One way to gain change support is to involve people in the change process from the beginning (ie: conversations and surveys).
10) You are neglecting leadership performance monitoring, accountability, coaching and support.
Are you evaluating how your leadership capability is progressing?
Leadership development success is totally dependent on your accurate evaluation of actual results based on your original program expectations and objectives. Whether on an organizational, departmental or individual level, it is essential to ensure that effective current-to-desired leadership gap reduction has occurred (or is occurring) based on a noticeable improvement in the specified metrics. On a micro-level, more immediate results will be observed upon the implementation of each individuals’ personal leadership development / performance enhancement initiatives as part of their learning plan.
In addition, there may be value in conducting a second set of leadership conversations, and / or surveys, to evaluate whether there are changes in people’s leadership perceptions. This would provide direct feedback regarding each person’s perceived progress in elevating their leadership capability, and will also provide a larger scale evaluation of the overall growth of your organization’s leadership capability.
As well, leaders must be held accountable for the application of leadership behaviours within their specific role. Otherwise, what’s the point of development? Where appropriate, previously defined leadership expectations can be included in your organization’s position descriptions, and each individual’s specifically identified leadership development objectives can be incorporated into your organization’s existing performance review process and Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). Group progress can be evaluated when it is appropriate based on your organization’s overall and departmental performance review schedules.
One of the best ways to encourage leadership behavior implementation and accountability is via the ongoing leadership coaching process (internal or external). Leadership performance is most successful when seen as an ongoing learning process (rather than static knowledge), and learning retention is significantly higher when a person actually applies and expands upon the knowledge obtained through class-based training programs. Since developing leaders need the support of their manager and organization in order to apply what they are learning, incorporating ongoing coaching into the process will provide for immediate monitoring, accountability and support in addition to later, more formal, performance reviews.