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Blog : How to develop leaders at all levels

Blog

How to develop leaders at all levels


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By guest blogger, Emily Rockey

Once upon a time there was a leader and his managers. The leader would sit in his ivory tower and tell the managers what to do. The managers would head to the floor, commanding and controlling their workers even though sometimes the word from on high was far from the best way to proceed. The managers could hide behind their status because their workers would ‘put up and shut up’; they had no other choice. The workers knew what was going wrong and became demotivated and disengaged.

Then one day, an enlightened worker realised that they had a right to decent leadership. They shared their thinking and expectations rose. Through them a new type of leadership was bred – one where employees were treated as adults and the leader wasn’t just the CEO in a glass office. They realised that with the right traits, everyone could act as leaders; inspiring each other to be the very best. The managers developed their capability too; exemplifying what the company was all about…

In short, this story simplifies the modern day workplace. Gone are the days of the industrial era. Instead we are living in a world of connectivity – where free flowing information, empowered individuals and ‘doing things differently’ are the ruling the roost.

With it comes a change in expectation. Switched-on employers are searching for individuals who thrive off self-management and self-organisation. Employees are actively searching for environments where creativity, innovation and conversation comes in abundance; where they are treated as people, know the boundaries and are encouraged to think and act for in the best interests of the business.

This doesn’t mean ‘free for all’ organisations, however. Instead businesses are investing in building leadership capability at every level. Giving people the means to develop specific leadership traits throughout their employee lifecycle; starting from day one of joining.

Here we share our three top tips to help you establish this capability in your business.

Define your leadership behaviours

Jane Sunley, best-selling business author and Founder & Chairman of Purple Cubed has explained that once you have your self-managing framework – which offers employees a level of freedom yet clear boundaries – it’s important to define your leadership principles.

These are the traits you want your people to develop at every level, regardless of whether they want to be a leader or not. Developing these skills not only ensures for consistency; there will be much less conflict and ambiguity.

Jane Sunley has outlined a list of potential traits that you may wish to focus on:

  • Vision – the ability to look forward in an enlightened and open-minded way; to be strategic yet pragmatic
  • Courage – of convictions and bravery to make tough decisions, make calculated risks and face harsh challenges
  • Action-centred – the ability to ‘make it happen’, bringing things to a conclusion, leaving  no loose ends
  • Communicator – confident and articulate, able to make the complex simple so that everyone understands. ‘Gets’ the power of communication and the need to exploit it to the max
  • Understand the numbers – finance-savvy and able to grasp key metrics in order to succeed
  • Positivity – keep people ‘up there’, handles bad news in a way which makes people feel as though they are in safe hands. Spots opportunities and takes them.
  • Hard empathy – ability to make people feel important, valued and valuable. To know exactly where they fit and what’s required. To feel vital to the success of the organisation; challenged yet appreciated and recognised for their contribution

Decide which traits are most important for your culture and teams and then work on one or two at a time – this is not going to be an overnight process. For these types of softer skill, low-cost / no-cost learning methods – such as shadowing, mentoring and e-learning – offer great advantages and are particularly cost-effective. This isn’t about sending people off to Harvard…

Focus on middle management

When organisations have a limited budget, it's crucial to focus on middle management first. These individuals are where the investment is likely to show the most return; especially when many are new managers.

How their leadership capability is developed is down to you and the resource you have available. Today’s employee needs access to ‘just in time’ learning to draw down as it is needed rather than spending hours in ‘standard classroom training'. That said you may wish to create a specific learning programme, in which case ensure the approach is business focused and facilitative so people are working to solve real issues adding value as they go. You’ll also want to add your chosen leadership traits to performance reviews and / or create working parties to explore how the behaviours will be delivered and how you’ll know this is happening consistently.

The important thing is that as the capability is developed, your senior and middle managers ‘walk the talk’. Great leadership breeds great leadership; therefore displaying these ‘role model’ traits will ensure that they become part of your DNA and exerted by all employees across the business.

Grow your own

Once you have established how leadership works in your organisation, you’ll be able to create a ‘leadership charter’ based on the crucial components and traits you have agreed to develop at all levels.

This charter can be used to help grow the leadership pipeline in your business. This isn’t about creating lots of carbon-copy leaders though. The charter should merely act as a tool for alignment, so people know what is expected, yet encourage their individuality to shine through.

Use this information from recruitment, testing the traits and behaviours and checking aspirations. Then, once appointed, start developing them and imparting knowledge from day one. You’ll also need to manage aspirations, just because you’re developing leadership capability in them doesn’t mean they will be the next CEO!

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