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Blog : Purple - May 2015 - Leaders at all levels


Purple - May 2015 - Leaders at all levels

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The Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Survey revealed that the need for ’leaders at all levels’ is one of the 12 critical issues facing businesses in 2015. In their analyses, they go as far as to say that leadership “remains the number one talent issue facing organisations around the world,” with 86% of respondents to the survey rating it “urgent” or “important.” However, with only 13% saying they do an excellent job of developing leaders at all levels, this area has to become a vital focus for employers.

For us, this is not only about developing leadership pipelines. It’s about ensuring that everyone, aspiring leader or not, acquires the fundamental capabilities and skills needed to deliver a great performance and make the right decisions.

Unfortunately though, too many organisations still apply traditional top-down approaches to leadership; gained from models and techniques honed over the last 50 years or so. There’s no doubting that there’s some good stuff out there, and some still rings true, but we must recognise  the world is a very different place to when McGregor* was a boy.

The flattening of organisational design has created an eruption in demand for leadership skills at every level and this, in time, will mean that less traditional leadership will be required. The emerging trend is working collaboratively with clear vision and support. 


What’s not working?

Typically, elite executives at the top are developed, coached and encouraged to become charismatic and powerful leaders. And there’s nothing wrong with that, though there’s often a disparity. Those at other levels possess and acquire vast amounts of knowledge and real life know-how, for example when it comes to product and service delivery and customer feedback. They really understand the market and generally have a firm grip on what’s actually happening in real time.  That’s why ‘Back to the Floor’ type TV programmes are so entertaining, revealing and, unfortunately, frequently so perturbing. The CEO who dons a disguise to work alongside the front line can’t be the only one to recognise what needs to change - that he or she may well be the only person with the power, freedom and positioning to be able to make real-time decisions which better the business.

And then there’s middle management. These are the aspiring executives and senior managers, who have frequently been promoted from the ranks, often without development and support, making this, perhaps, the most difficult transition of all. They hold very high, yet often underestimated, levels of responsibility and potential impact. They manage their teams and interact with customers. They sometimes have pressures coming from all sides and often aren’t equipped to adequately deal with them. To their direct reports, this person IS the organisation. Hence the middle manager holds a huge obligation when it comes to engagement, development, motivation, productivity and overall happiness.

Things need to evolve, and rapidly. If your organisation isn’t maximising the positive effects and potential of its middle managers and those on the front line, then you’re missing out in a big way. The middle management layer should be a vibrant conduit for idea generation, for nurturing, providing support, developing trust and personifying the company’s culture. 

The front line should be confident, trusted experts with attitude, skills and knowledge in abundance; empowered to act as leaders, delivering the strategy that will make your organisation great.


What needs to evolve?

It’s still important to think about leadership and management;  however we believe it’s about creating an approach whereby teams of people get things done collaboratively;  within what we call ‘freedom within a framework’. They have access to guidelines and support of others on request, they know the boundaries and are thus able to confidently make decisions which will achieve the desired outcomes. This is completely different to taking direction from above on everything and being micro-managed throughout. This is why freedom within a framework will only work successfully when those in charge learn to let go and trust people. This can only be achieved by making the switch from measuring inputs to measuring outputs.

The upside for the managers is that they gain time and brain capacity to drive the organisation forward, making business improvements along the way instead of becoming bogged down in the day-to-day detail. This isn’t going to happen overnight though. It requires an evolving plan which includes everyone in the organisation finding the desire and determination to want to deliver.

And for people to push the boundaries and even fight to uphold the company’s principles and ideals, they have to first fully understand and support what the company stands for and how things are done.


The importance of cultural identity

You probably think we’re beginning to sound like a broken record when it comes to the importance of a strong culture; however still too often the carefully crafted mission and vision statements, values and guiding principles rarely make it into the pole position they deserve.

That has to change. Today’s talent wants to belong to somewhere thathas a purpose they can relate to, support and be proud of.

To attract and retain these people, businesses must be definite about the ways things are done and ensure people understand the required behaviours and boundaries so that they can really. It doesn’t matter what you call all this framework: visions, mission, values, principles, cultural identifiers, ‘what we’re about’… The trick is to keep messages real, super-simple and appealing.

Once you have your framework, to breed a culture of leaders at all levels, it’s vital to define core leadership principles – the things you want every employee, regardless of position in the business, to develop and exhibit. Then clearly communicate these criteria so that people can be tasked with driving their own development.

Your framework is NOT just about cool signs hanging from the ceiling or cards in pockets. It has to be everywhere but most of all etched on hearts and minds. Your people should use it in everything they do; decision making, in business planning, in recruitment, induction, development, reviews, day-to-day…

So spread this approach as wide as possible so you can gain maximum buy in. The objective here is for people to OWN the work and the resulting information so they can deliver, support and defend it in future.

*Douglas McGregor, an American social psychologist, who introduced his famous X-Y motivation theory in his book 'The Human Side Of Enterprise', first published in 1960.

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