Leaders: The Need to Build, Not Always Buy

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????by Jason Questor
Founding Partner and EVP Learning Systems

Everywhere you look today business professionals are discussing the need for leaders. This is not new. What is new, for some,  is the reality of global competition coming right to your front door, coupled with uncertainty as the New Certainty. In his 2009 book Leaders Make the Future, Bob Johansen coined the acronym VUCA to represent the current and growing reality businesses face: volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. This forms the backdrop for what I want to talk about today, and that is the need to incorporate growing your own leaders as a key element of your immediate and ongoing strategy.

True leaders are a rare commodity, and increasingly, this is a seller’s market. People who have what it takes to leverage deep understanding of your business and the marketplace and inspire others towards a sustainable high performance vision can pick and choose where they want to work. Or, they might just strike out on their own or with your best people and become your new competitor.

In his article for Forbes in October 2012, Avi Dan pointed out that the challenges faced by medium sized businesses are particularly acute.

  • Larger organizations can afford to pay handsomely for their top talent, far beyond the budgets of mid-size companies.
  • They can also afford to maintain highly specialized business support functional areas and departments, such as project management, business analysis, sales and marketing. Larger organizations can maintain a well-resourced middle management tier to support strategy through operational excellence and tactical initiatives. Everyone else has to be able to do this work themselves.

Add to this the importance of what Robert Greenleaf calls Servant Leadership, which includes not just understanding that people are the foundation of success in any venture, but having true empathy for them and the ability to harness their energy towards shared success in a culture of service.  Much has been said and written about Servant Leadership since Greenleaf first coined the term in 1970, but it is astounding how little has actually been done about it in everyday business.  This, despite the fact that the concept is thousands of years old. Half a millennium before the Common Era, Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu is credited with saying “The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy”. Every organization wants and needs the first two types. Having the last two types will kill your business.

What all of this leads to is the need for everyone, but especially smaller and mid-size organizations to invest in the in-house growth and development of effective leaders and managers at all strategic and tactical levels. Skills like establishing and working towards an actionable vision, effective delegation and coaching, managing for performance and professional development, establishing a culture of effective collaboration, teamwork and continuous improvement , and managing change and conflict are very learnable skills.  As business leaders, we must make excellence in leadership and management a priority.

From Business Analysis for Business Performance ©2012 Jason Questor.

ACHIEVEBLUE’s Lead to Succeed Program, created with our partner Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters,  has been built on the decades long strength of the highly successful Compete to Win program, Lead to Succeed is a fully-realized foundation toolkit that equips your people with up to date, immediately actionable skills that make a real difference. For more information, click here.

Workplace Winners: How to Maximize Visible Champions

Imageby Dr. Linda Sharkey
Global Managing Partner and
Director Talent and Leadership Practice

Every workplace has standouts. These employees are visible champions, the people who emulate everything a company strives for. Sometimes the true champions are hard to find, but it’s a worthwhile venture to take the time to pinpoint and properly showcase such employees. Aside from celebrating and motivating the individual champion, positive reinforcement can even encourage others in the company, creating more champions.

Hiding in Plain Sight

The first step to maximizing your workplace champions is, of course, identifying them. The true champions aren’t always especially outgoing, and it can be difficult to find those who quietly excel at what they do. The best way to find your most skilled employees is to get to know them. Spend time learning about all the people in your direct line of influence. This can be done through talent reviews and assessments, which are perfect for gaining insight into the contributions of the “quiet ones.”

Beyond technical methods, though, you can also take a personal approach. Spend some time with your talent after meetings to get to know them a little better. Consult with their bosses concerning their contributions and how best to recognize them. Remember that one size does not necessarily fit all when it comes to recognition. Sometimes simply the fact that you acknowledged a champion’s work or gave them a verbal chance to shine is enough!

The Visible Versus the Leadership Spotlight

Once a workplace champion is made visible, sometimes the natural next step is elevated leadership, but not always. It depends on what the outstanding employee was recognized for. Say you’ve noticed a technical expert for their innovative take on an old work process or for an idea they have for a better way to do the job. Should they be recognized? Absolutely. But consider their contribution: just because they have a great technical idea does not necessarily mean they are a natural leader or even want a leadership role. So before reassigning roles, take the opportunity to discuss the champion’s career aspirations with them. Find out what they’re passionate about. If leading others is where they want to grow, then it’s a great idea to take those next steps toward leadership.

When grooming a new leader, keep in mind that leading people requires a very different skill set from being a technical expert. There are several things you’ll need to do to help the new leader effectively manage his/her role.

  • Assess their current leadership capability in a formal way.
  • Engage in development and coaching to help the new leader learn the necessary skills.
  • Provide appropriate assignments to test skills and behavior.
  • Personally provide feedback as they learn and apply the new skills.
  • Keep up the recognition: catch them doing the job right and praise them for it.

Once certain colleagues are recognized, other workers can be encouraged to excel in the same ways. Peer coaching is an excellent tool to use. An environment in which it is expected that employees will offer positive and constructive coaching to help their colleagues improve or learn new approaches is a great way to develop more champions.

Did We Mention Communication?

Along with peer coaching comes, naturally, communication. Communicate, communicate, and communicate again the best practices, and how employees can learn from each other. Create a learning culture and not one where employees compete against one another. Encourage everyone to be the best in their job and help their colleagues be the best in their jobs.

When collaboration is high and people are excited about what they do and who they work with, you’ll find that absenteeism and turnover are low while employee engagement is high: all elements of a high-performing workplace culture. An organization with a culture of champions has an air of excitement and energy you can feel – help people believe in their own success and create an office full of champions!