Leadership is about people. Great leadership empowers people to do the right things, not just ‘do things right’, challenging the norms because the world moves so fast that yesterday’s ‘fit for purpose’ might well be today’s ‘out-dated’. It has nothing to do with seniority, hierarchy or titles. Leaders are those who own employee engagement, culture and developing others. They are ideally placed to exemplify the company culture and display role model behaviours, educating the managers of the future ‘how to’. To have any chance of getting the people stuff right in your business, growing leadership capability at all levels should be a priority.
Weak managers used to be able to hide behind their status. These days information flow is freer, expectations are higher and people aren’t going to ‘put up and shut up’. People expect, and have a right to, decent leadership. And they will demand it. Or leave you. So if, hand on heart, you recognise that instead of being the conduit for brilliance, some of your leaders are the ones who are holding your company back, then you have to tackle it as a priority.
Developing leaders is a life-long process and something the potential leader should take their own responsibility for. It’s HR’s role to make sure that the company is growing leadership capability internally by teaching people to think and act like leaders.
What can businesses do right now to help grow leadership capability?
Starting early by providing basic leadership skills to everyone (leader or not) makes sense. Then top it off and make it practical by engaging your leaders in activity or projects that will result in business improvements. If you don’t have the resource to do this for everyone, start with those who directly influence the most people – which, for many may well be the middle management layer.
What makes a great leader will, of course, vary from organisation to organisation; culture to culture. This is why cookie cutter approaches to development don’t bring about the business improvements you’d expect them to. Define core leadership principles that are specific to your business culture to outline ‘how we lead here’. Then measure your leaders against this and develop them accordingly. Make any group work facilitative and open up opportunities to learn such as projects, mentoring and self-study. The most important thing is that leaders in the making must have access to this development on the way up – once they’re there it could be too late.
Next time we’ll take a closer look at contemporising your learning and development…