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When an organization struggles, it's easy to point at outside factors like market conditions, strategy, or the division's performance.
However, more often than not, a failing organization boils down to ineffective leadership.
In the not-so-distant past, every critical decision was left to the CEO or Management Team. In today's rapid change environment, this practice can and will be detrimental to an organization's existence. Organizations that are highly effective at overcoming adverse conditions have leaders at every level, not just at the top.
Unfortunately, most organizations believe they have leaders at every level because they are designed hierarchically. But, just because you have managers doesn't mean you have leaders.
Just because organizations have managers doesn't mean they have leaders.
Instead of going into all the differences between managers and leaders, let's get on the same page about what it means to be a leader. As I defined in Building the Best, "someone whose actions inspire, empower, and serve in order to elevate others." Want to discover you are elevating others in your leadership style? Take the free leadership style quiz here. Every manager can learn to elevate others, but it doesn't mean they are.
On a recent episode of the John Eades podcast, Dr. Garland Vance backed this up, saying, "Leadership is a set of skills that have to be practiced, developed, and honed over time. There might be people that are born with it, but the people who get really good at it are the ones who work at it. Just like Steph Curry is naturally a good basketball player, but he practices like crazy to become great."
Just because you can lead doesn't mean you are.
It's no secret that some organizations don't invest in their people. The list of reasons is long, but traditionally training can be expensive, time-consuming, and ineffective. If that weren't enough, organizations can spend a lot of time, money, and energy to help develop someone, and they could leave. I love the CFO to CEO-conversation around this:
CFO Asks CEO: "what happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?"
CEO: "What happens if we don't, and they stay?"
Richard Branson backed this up by saying, "Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don't want to." While Branson is right, every organization would be more effective if professionals willingly invested in themselves as leaders instead of relying on their company.
Most people won't willingly invest in themselves, especially when it comes to their leadership development.
Unfortunately, people avoid leadership development because there isn't a clear and guaranteed outcome like money or entertainment at the end of the course or book.
The less talked about reason organizations don't invest in their people is they aren't patient, and they can't control the outcome. The world has become so short-term focused, we forget that growth takes time. As much as we want to become great at anything, it takes repetition and experience. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut other than training, effort, and coaching, and even then, the outcome isn't guaranteed.
Growth not only takes time, but it also takes action. Too often, leaders forget that growth isn't a goal, it's a byproduct of what happens when we take action.
Growth isn't a goal, it's a byproduct of what happens when we take action.
I constantly have to remind myself and others that great leadership doesn't always show up in short-term results, but its impact is always realized in the long term in the people that experience a great leader. If you need a quick reminder about the importance of making an impact, watch this short video from my recent keynote.
Here are two simple strategies to ensure you don't leave leadership development to chance on your team or in your organization.
Leadership, like many things, is a journey and not a destination. Many organizations know this and have built internal leadership development academies/universities. These include things like year-long courses, learning tracks, workshops, coaching, and mentoring, to name a few.
Formal learning is fantastic, but learning can and should take place anytime. One of the best ways to embed this in a culture is to ask a simple question of yourself and others:
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 is how you show the world that you have a hunger to get better and are willing to put in the work and effort.
Being coachable is how you show the world that you have a hunger to get better and are willing to put in the work and effort.
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 improve you.
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.
All kinds of strategies dramatically improve the effectiveness of leadership development programs. A few of my current favorites include:
Provide proven content
Include one-on-one or group coaching
Subscribe to Cohort Based learning
Whether you use these tactics or not, great things happen if companies have the desire and commitment to developing leaders. Frontline employees provide a better experience to customers, managers will have healthier teams, and parents will have a stronger family structure outside of work.
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.
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