Developing Others into Leaders
While the first two aspects of Leadership we considered so far had a lot to do with winning, results, strategy, etc., the last two aspects of leadership have to do with development. Firstly – developing others into leaders and, growing themselves into better leaders. In this piece, we will discuss how great leaders develop others into leaders. Below is the re-cap of the framework for the leadership mind-set.
If you Google words, “Developing Leadership”, or “Developing leadership in others”, you get anywhere between 70 to 145 million hits! In my experience, as many leaders are there, so many approaches to developing leadership. There are leaders who swear by “Level 5 leadership”, “Transformational Leadership”, “Inspirational leadership”, “Servant leadership”, “Charismatic leadership”, “Situational Leadership” and others who strive to develop “Leadership bench-strength”, “Leadership pipeline”, or “Leadership Engine” in their organizations.
Some leaders try to avoid all these and aim to develop “leadership qualities” that can range from “Emotional Intelligence”, “Principle-based”, “Entrepreneurial”, “Trustworthiness”, “Fairness”, “Strategic orientation”, “Change champion”, etc. in their people.
Some leaders take up a process/ tool-kit orientation and try to develop leadership in their organizations through “Role modeling”, “360-degree feedback”, “Corporate Universities”, “Assignment Planning”, “Talent Development”, “Leadership coaching and mentoring” and so forth.
Some leaders also believe in developing the right leadership style in their followers that could range from, “Participative leaders” to “Laissez-faire leaders”, “Task-oriented leaders” or “Relationship oriented leaders”. Some also use and follow many different leadership theories like, “Behavioral” or “Functional” or “Situational” or “Psychological” theories.
And no wonder, it is all confusing and it is very difficult to get started, especially if it is not a global company with vast resources that you are working for. A summary of some common themes across these multiple approaches may result in a somewhat simpler guide to get going on developing leaders in your respective organizations.
Developing Leaders or Developing Leadership?
The first distinction we need to develop is to understand the difference between “Developing Leaders” and “Developing Leadership”. Developing Leaders is about all the activities in the organization that focus on growing high potential individuals into leaders that will play key roles in leading the business/ organization. In this, Developing Leaders has a lot to do with Talent Development or Career Planning of high potentials. On the other hand, “Developing Leadership” often refers to growing leadership abilities broadly across all the employees in the organization. The particular set of leadership abilities will depend upon what each organization chooses as necessary in their business. Some common abilities include “Takes Initiative”, “Able to perform without supervision”, “Acts decisively”, “Collaborates”, “Communicates”, “Analytical ability”, “Does the right thing in the right way”, etc. Training and Development or Management Development is often the processes/ tools used to accomplish this.
Qualities of effective “Developing Leaders” cultures/ approaches
Personal Responsibility: Most effective approaches involve leaders taking personal responsibility for identifying and developing top talent into future leaders. Top leadership at General Electric spends a significant amount of time reviewing top talent and planning their assignments as part of business meetings. C-session reviews at GE are equally famous. The personal responsibility manifests in a few important forms – a) visible role modeling; b) investment in establishing the process for identifying and developing leaders; c) constantly reviewing and discussing future leaders and their careers with important stakeholders, particularly the board of directors; d) advancing leaders who develop other leaders; and e) investment of personal time and effort in evangelizing the importance of developing leaders for the future.
Personal Responsibility at all levels: “A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm – Henrik Ibsen” One of the most significant qualities of effective leader development cultures is that leaders at all levels take the responsibility to develop others into future leaders in their respective spheres of influence. This is not limited to top management only. When this becomes part of culture, a self-sustaining process of leader development is established. In Procter & Gamble, historically advancement of executives was based on, besides other factors, the number and quality of leaders that the executive had developed and the type of key positions they now occupy.
Personal Relationships: When leaders take personal responsibility, they also invest in developing a personal relationship with the future leaders. Many executive leaders have regular “1:1’s” with the future leaders and have personal time with them when visiting businesses outside the HQ. These 1:1’s are not business review meetings – they are on top of them. They are not “issue resolution” meetings – they are for the purpose of growing the personal relationship in the backdrop of business. These meetings could be simple 1 hour conversations once every month, supplemented by more time when face to face. This is the closest to a “collegial” relationship that can happen inside the organization structure – a type of relationship that is critical to learning and growth. This relationship not only contributes to the future leader learning from the experiences of the executive leader but also results in establishing a relationship based on mutual trust. Decision making in a mutually trusting relationship is not only fast, but also ensures alignment on strategic issues.
Experience as the basis for development: The single biggest differentiator between great leader development cultures and others lies in the degree of reliance on formative experiences for the growth of future leaders. Some companies like GE, P&G and others have a formal process for planning the assignments of their high potentials so that they acquire over time, with increasing responsibility, the experiences – business, functional and geographic that will make them suitable for higher level roles. For example, working with largest customers, most difficult but promising geographical markets, businesses in turn-around situations, working with joint venture partners, managing in volatile markets, etc., all form the character and muscles of future leaders. Morgan McCall in his book, “High Flyers” details the core elements of powerful experiences that lead to the growth of leaders.
Strong link to Business Strategy: It is commonly accepted that businesses must place their strongest leaders on the most strategic battle fronts. What is less obvious is the dual realization that such strategic battle fronts offer the best learning experiences for future leaders and that leader development can be linked closely with business strategy to make the best use of leadership capability a business possesses. The best of the companies translate their business strategy into leadership challenges and select the leaders who can benefit most by facing such challenges successfully. For example, if international expansion is a major strategic front for a business, it is also a great opportunity for that business to develop its future leaders in this area. This opportunity serves in two ways – offers the best learning grounds and also develops the leaders of future with the right experiences.
A Learning Environment: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other – John Kennedy”. One of the top characteristics of leaders is that they actively seek opportunities to learn. If the organization doesn’t encourage learning, especially from failures, it is difficult to see leaders growing in such a culture. Most people learn most from their peers – not from figures of authority. In this respect, a culture where peers can, without competitive pressures, share experiences and learn from each other is one of the most fertile grounds for growing future leaders. Peter Senge, in his book “The Fifth Discipline” says, “In a learning organization, leaders are designers, stewards, and teachers. They are responsible for building organizations where people continually expand their capabilities to understand complexity, clarify vision, and improve shared mental models – that is, they are responsible for learning.”
Protection from de-railment: Many leaders, particularly when they seem to be doing well, delivering more than their promise, seem to go off the rails and fail, often resulting in end of their careers. Best of the organizations protect their best talent from this type of derailment via a couple of approaches. One is to provide Coaching and Mentoring help – often from other leaders in the organization who either have many more years of experience or are in higher levels. The other approach is to provide promising leaders with executive coaches from outside the organization who have long and impressive track records as business leaders. The help lies in ensuring that the leader doesn’t ignore weaknesses and doesn’t over-play strengths to the extent that they become weaknesses. Achieving a balance between using strengths and overcoming weaknesses is often the only feedback (besides performance feedback) that a leader on the way to realizing her/ his potential needs.
Often, the task of Developing Leadership in employees is the responsibility of a “Corporate University” or “Training and Development department”. Many of these organizations make a distinction between two different sets of abilities – “Technical Mastery” and “Leadership/ Management Skills”. The former abilities refer to skills and knowledge that are essential to high quality, on-the-job performance. For example, for a young professional in the corporate finance department, such skills would include Financial Analysis, Forecasting, knowledge of analytical models such as NPV, Total Shareholder Return, etc. A high degree of mastery of these “Technical Skills” is seen as a pre-requisite to gaining leadership abilities as these skills help achieve a track record of results that gives the basic credibility an aspiring leader requires.
Concurrently, “Leadership or Management development” focuses on helping employees acquire skills such as “Collaboration”, “Communication”, “Interpersonal skills” “Emotional Intelligence”, “Situational management”, etc. An effort to develop a combination of the technical skills and the leadership/ management abilities, when done broadly across all employees in an organization, over the long term, leads to “Leadership development”. The method of this development is mostly class-room training, supplemented by field/ project work and various other methods of learning such as action learning.
Human Resources department or in some cases, a special Corporate University often lead this effort. In the best organizations that truly have a leadership development culture, a majority of teaching and training is personally led by various levels of leaders of the company (versus using consultants or business school professors). This is due to the fact thatthere is a clear expectation that developing others into leaders is personal responsibility of leaders and plays into theirreward and progression in their organization.
In the next and last article, we will examine how the best of leaders grow themselves into better leaders in a constant search for betterment.