When things aren’t going a team’s way, it’s easy to point a finger of blame at the market, the products offered, or even one team member.
More often than not, a struggling team boils down to ineffective leadership from more than just the person at the top.
Teams that are highly effective at overcoming adverse conditions are capable of unleashing what I call “leaders at every level.” Unfortunately, this isn’t a light switch that can be turned on at any time. What’s required is a strategy and an intense focus on hiring, developing, and equipping people to choose to lead daily.
Great companies develop their people to be leaders because every circumstance demands it.
“Leaders at every level” is not only a reputation in the marketplace for having an elite culture, but it permeates internally as team members are expected to become the leader they are capable of becoming.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past where every critical decision was left to the CEO or management team. In today’s current rapid change environment, this practice can and will be detrimental to an organization's existence.
To retain top talent, organizations have relied on promotions into positions of leadership. While this retention tactic is still in practice, human resource executives and executive leaders are getting wiser. Now, they are not only evaluating leadership skills in their succession planning process, but there is a lot more emphasis on asking people to act like leaders right where they are. This is particularly important since most professionals want their work to have a more meaningful impact.
Organizations like Extended Stay, Cora Health, Lippert Components, and many more have embraced the idea of developing leaders at every level. While this approach can be time-consuming and more expensive in the short-term, it creates a workforce that is prepared to lead.
Developing leaders is time-consuming and expensive, but it creates a workforce that is prepared to lead.
Here are a few strategies for creating "leaders at every level" in your organization:
Leadership, like many things, is a journey and not a destination. Many organizations know this, and they have built internal leadership development academies/universities. These include things like year-long courses, learning tracks, workshops, coaching, and mentoring, just to name a few. However, best companies do this not because it’s a nice thing to do, but because it’s tied to their purpose and mission.
Take Coke Consolidated as an example. Even though they are the largest Coca-Cola Bottler in the United States, they know they exist for a much bigger purpose. Todd Miller, the Vice President of Organizational Capability, said, “We are a purpose-driven company that attracts, engages, and grows a highly talented, diverse workforce of servant leaders enabling Coke Consolidated’s growth and performance.”
One of my favorite ways Miller and his amazing team do this is by “Rewarding and recognizing teammates driving our culture of growth and learning. This is critical because we all tend to repeat what is rewarded.”
We tend to repeat what is rewarded.
Thanks to the internet and the massive amount of information available to us, every organization, regardless of their budget, can tap into the unlimited number of opportunities to learn at any time. The best companies and talent development leaders recognize this and are getting creative in creating a culture of learning.
Take David Hare Director of Enterprise Learning and Development at GE Appliances as an example. "We pivoted quickly to ensure that everyone who was able, could continue to grow. We moved to democratize learning and create environments where we could have dialogue around pertinent topics, learning more of what is taking place in our business, while building skills that would accelerate our business post-pandemic."
This came by the way of us utilizing their digital learning environment more intentionally and starting a series called RISE. RISE was a series of weekly talks and teachings around functional areas of the business, inclusion diversity and equity, leadership capabilities, team effectiveness, innovation, digital transformation, and personal effectiveness.
Since the best leaders are learners, being coachable is essential for any leader. More often than not, a person’s ability to say or do something significant is built on the backbone of hard work, dedication, and being coachable.
What’s interesting about coachability is that it’s not a technical skill or inherent to us. It’s a mental mindset that anyone can embrace. Being coachable means, you proactively seek help and feedback to support your growth and development.
Being coachable means, you proactively seek help and feedback to support your growth and development.
Nick Saban, the legendary head football coach at Alabama, constantly preaches to his players and coaches to “respect the critical eye.” This means that instead of getting defensive, embrace when someone is coaching you with a critical eye because they are trying to make you better.
Organizations that promote coachable and “respect the critical eye” professionals at every level will have more leaders than those who do not because coachable people eventually pour that knowledge into others. It reminds me of the great Sophia Bush quote: “We are allowed to be a masterpiece and a work and progress all at the same time.”
One of the most popular questions I get in my LinkedIn or Instagram DM box is, “What do I do if I am a part of a toxic or dysfunctional team?” There are three commonalities for everyone who asks this question - they are on teams with bad attitudes, negative energy, or a bad leader. If an organization wants to develop leaders at every level, they must avoid putting people in leadership positions who have bad attitudes, spread negative energy, or tolerate constant pessimism.
If you leave bad leaders in positions of leadership, this is what is going to happen.
Organizations must continuously identify and highlight relentlessly positive professionals. In an interview with Jacob Morgan for The Future of Work Newsletter, ServiceNow CEO Bill McDermott said, “Never underestimate the power of relentless optimism. Challenges create opportunity. We must think boldly and create the solution others view as possible.”
If you want to create leaders at every level, having relentlessly optimistic professionals is a great place to start.
It would be amazing if having “leaders at every level” were as easy as turning on a lightswitch. But when you think about all the work, effort, and dedication it took and continues to take for that light switch to turn on the lights, it proves there is nothing easy about it.
However, if companies both have the desire and commitment to developing leaders, great things happen. Frontline employees provide a better experience to customers, managers will have healthier teams, and moms and dads will have a stronger family structure outside of work.
About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.
John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College.