Reap What You Sow

Leadership at all levels is a must for successful organizations large and small. Few organizations have leaders at all levels and fewer still have a method by which to develop leadership talent. Deloitte recently published a report that highlights 86% of global HR and business leaders reference leadership as a top issue. Yet only 6% of organisations believe their leadership pipeline is “very ready” – which points to a staggering leadership gap.

In slower, more predictable times, command-and-control hierarchies weren’t such a bad idea. They provided a simple system for consistent decision making: all questions were passed up the ladder to the same small group of people, and their decisions were handed back down. But in the current digitally wired-together global marketplace, pleasing customers and making a profit are functions of quick thinking and agile action. In the time it takes for a question to be passed up multiple layers and a decision handed back down, a customer may have gone elsewhere, or the opportunity may be lost. In a world where companies’ product and service offerings increasingly emulate each other, a successful business is distinguished by its collective ability to get there faster with better prepared people i.e. people ready to initiate change.

Winning businesses have more leaders at every level than their competitors. Companies don’t do things, people do. Action is taken at an individual level. At successful organisations, leaders constantly sense change, excite others about change, and implement change faster than their competitors. Winning businesses are distinguished from the “not so great” by a distinctive capability of teaching people to be effective leaders. Great leaders are also great teachers.

Developing other leaders requires a “teachable point of view” about:

• The values of the organisation
• Business ideas and plans for the organisation
• How to energize the workforce
• How to develop ‘the guts’ to make the yes/no decisions

A teachable point of view becomes the basis for leaders to present a dynamic, compelling story to others. These stories create a case for change, a vision of where the organization is going, and an understanding of how to get there. Once leaders have a story, they can then take bold actions that bring about massive and lasting change.

Often, we observe that companies funnel their brightest people into specialisms at the expense of future leadership skills. The premium is on development for functional excellence not for organisational leadership. More toxic is the backdrop of an eroding performance management system that condones unacceptable behaviours. The frequently prescribed remedy of ad hoc coaching or social Darwinism does not restore the desired balance of driving performance and organisational agility.

Development of leaders requires concerted, focused effort. Developing other leaders requires a methodology weaving together time spent on personal coaching, stretch assignments, action learning experiences. More than anything companies that win now, and that develop leaders so they can win in the future, take a different approach. Their leaders personally and actively develop leaders. Leaders will develop others if given an approach within a rewarding environment to do so.

At companies in which leaders develop leaders, a key role of HR professionals is to help leaders craft their teaching approaches. It requires HR professionals to play a different role by collaborating with the leaders and “driving” a cultural mindset in which leadership and teaching are intertwined. Is your HR function turning a blind eye, or worse still is it part of the problem by “applying lipstick to a pig” with a series of quick fixes, or is it helping to address the more fundamental challenge of how leaders develop leaders?