Talent Tips: Trying to Follow the Leader

Being the lead dog doesn’t always mean those who follow become leaders.

By Roy Saunderson, President, Recognition Management Institute

Can we really produce leaders the way we’ve always done?

Perhaps therein lies the answer to our emerging shortage of talent and the void of succession planning, especially as many senior leaders begin to depart the workforce. We can’t keep doing the same leadership development if we want real leaders for tomorrow.

One of the fascinating observations with leadership development is the idea most organizations have of putting a whole bunch of high-potential performers into a leadership academy hopper with the expectation of churning out a ready-made leader-to-go out the other end of the funnel.

Too often we have a preconceived notion of what a “leader” really is. We think we can mind-meld everything our current leaders know into incumbents, along with ramming all the thought leadership of our Ivy League establishments into a person to produce what we commonly define as a leader.

Leadership is not a single competency anyone can simply learn and be ready to instantly perform. It is a complete combination of skill sets and application through experience that allows those responsible for leadership development to ascertain who really is a leader. The bulk of leadership development emerges in the trenches from practical experience and often is specific to the individual requirements of a defined leadership role.

So what can we do to develop the leadership strengths so desperately needed in today’s workplace?

Finding Leaders From Within

CEOs and other C-suite leaders have been there, done that, as far as leadership development is concerned. Should incumbents simply follow these leaders?

The best way to learn and improve leadership skills is to observe the methods of current leaders and to practice and develop these techniques on the job with employees. Potential leaders should observe a variety of leaders in action and not just have a single mentor. There will be leadership fundamentals to acquire, of course, such as creating a compelling, meaningful vision; being able to influence and communicate your vision to others so they will follow; and developing sound judgment and decision-making skills—leadership is not for timid, indecisive folks.

Some skills and attributes will seem more awkward to acquire for certain individuals than others. It is essential for emerging leaders to nurture their own unique personal brand of leadership. They can learn the skills from others, but becoming a leader is very individual.

Finding one’s style of leadership is a growing experience and one of introspection and personal development. Leadership is a trial-and-error encounter, and potential leaders must remember they will fail many times and make mistakes. Leadership is not for the faint of heart.

Leadership always will come to the forefront in a time of need or crisis. That’s when someone manifests real leadership skills. Don’t hesitate to put someone in charge of an innovative project who normally would not be considered for the experience to see how they work things out.

Leadership development is an active, roll-up-the-sleeves, doing experience.

Unleashing Talent

Do we need a title or label to become a leader? Should we only develop those who have been classified as “high potential”? The concept behind the business bestseller, “The Leader Who Had No Title,” by Robin Sharma suggests this should not be the case.

Be on the lookout for those who display talent in a variety of areas, and seem to be able to collaborate and enlist the abilities of others to achieve a common goal. These are the innovators, people who have a vision for a product or service and have passion enough to see it through.

Try out different collaborative tools to help share knowledge and learn together while building consensus on design and development of products and services. From Instant Messaging and Facebook to Twitter, Skype, and Google Docs, as well as proprietary collaboration systems, people will gravitate to the tools they are most comfortable with. Leaders need to be exemplary in using the latest collaborative tools, technology, and software that enables them to connect and develop others.

Real leaders are always improving and developing themselves because they have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and want to understand
everything there is about their expertise or whatever they are passionate about.

How can we retain the talent in our workplaces? The reality is you can never bottle up talent and let it simply sit and ferment. You can only open up the bottle and unleash talent within your organization.

Leadership is about leading the way with creativity throughout the entire company.

Truly Sustainable Succession Planning

According to a succession planning Webinar conducted by the National Association of Corporate Directors, only 52 percent of corporate leader participants had a formal succession plan in place; 44 percent had no formal plan in place; and 5 percent didn’t know. But on a contingency basis, 74 percent indicated they at least had a plan in place in case the CEO was unable to continue in his or her role.

This shows organizations need candid conversations with their CEO well before exit plans or retirement are considered.

Knowing in advance when a leader is planning to leave and getting others to the stage of taking over requires targeting potential candidates well in advance and trying them out for size in some capacity before assuming they are the final choice.

However, it is more important to get beyond “replacement” planning and make succession planning be about developing a pool of leaders who will work together to lead and sustain the growth and potential of the organization.

Before leaving GE, Jack Welch, the former CEO, once said, “From now on, choosing my successor is the most important decision I’ll make. It occupies a considerable amount of thought almost every day.”

Developing leaders within any organization also needs to be top of mind, for the longevity of the company, as well as for succession planning.

Growing leaders in any organization requires going beyond just the high potentials and creating opportunities for leadership in all of our employees in their various roles. It’s about giving permission for each person to develop his or her innate and job-related talents to the highest capacity possible. Leadership needs to be an everyday focus where all employees are given the chance to lead some initiative to success through the efforts of others around them.

Peter Drucker once said, “Leadership is about doing the right things.”

Leadership development is about ensuring we develop leaders the right way.

Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and president of the Recognition Management Institute, a consulting and training firm specializing in helping companies “get recognition right.” Its focus is on showing leaders how to give real recognition to create positive relationships, better workplaces, and real results. For more information, contact RoySaunderson@Rideau.com or visit http://www.RealRecognition.com.

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training Top 100 and Emerging Training Leaders.