At this time each year, we celebrate the gift our country was given in the leadership skills of tow men when we needed them most — George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Both presidents arrived on the scene when our country was divided and in peril of disintegration.
So what does it take to develop these skills? I did some research for what the “experts” were saying about growing leaders and I’ll share a bit of what I learned with you.
There is no lack of information on the topic of leadership; in fact, I was swamped. From conferences to videos to blogs and books, it seems there is a wealth of information on what makes good leaders and how to develop them.
Since the scope of this blog is workplace related and most companies need more than one leader, I’ll focus on some general suggestions for developing both an environment and a program for developing leaders.
You can send your employees to the most expensive and intense leadership development programs, however, if you have not built an environment to let this training take root, it’s like trying to grow tomatoes in cement.
Here are some suggestions from Nance Dearman, CEO of Kotter International, writing for the Harvard Business Review about the type of environment that brings forth leadership. Ms. Dearman states it needs to be a culture where
• the vision for the future is clearly understood throughout the organization;
• people are invited to step forward to help advance the vision in small and big ways;
• good-faith efforts that don’t work out are seen as bigger barriers to tackle, or a reason to re-examine the goals, rather than as a failure that must be punished;
• transparency is the norm, barriers to progress are shared, and people are asked to help knock down those barriers;
• wins, both large and small, are widely celebrated;
• one seldom hears the phrase, “That’s not your job,” or “That’s not my job.”
With the environment “soil” prepared, so to speak, let’s look at six suggestions from the Wall Street Journal’s article, How to Develop Future Leaders, about creating in-house leadership development programs.
1. Rotate people through different jobs. Give participants first-hand experience in many different roles. (I don’t wonder why Undercover Boss is such a popular TV show.)
2. Challenge them with unfamiliar jobs. Stretch assignments are growth-oriented exercises with inherent risk. They are designed to push participants past their skill level. Even failure offers valuable lessons.
3. Create mentoring programs. Create clear guidelines for the relationship. When, how, and how often will they meet and communicate? Partners should get to know one another before addressing issues. Few people will admit to vulnerabilities or challenges without an established relationship.
4. Ensure participants get frequent feedback and coaching. Most people want to know how they are doing . . . remember, most suggest three positive comments to each negative one.
5. Tap veterans’ advice. There are many retirees who love pouring into future leaders, identify them; see about setting up something on a contract or part-time basis. One great example of this in the Houston area is Between Jobs Ministry.
6. Allow participants to wash out. Not every candidate will have what it takes to be a good leader. Just because they are charismatic, it does not mean they should lead your company.
Perhaps the next George Washington or Abraham Lincoln is in your company now. Wouldn’t it be great if one day we were celebrating their birthdays?
Cheryl Sandifer is a Regional Facilitator with Workforce Solutions. In that role she has been able to apply her knowledge and experience as both an educator and social worker to conduct job search skills seminars throughout the Houston-Galveston area. She has had opportunity to work with those ranging from entry-level to C-level to help them find a job, keep a job, or get a better job.