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Jul 16 2015
Businesses are crying out for great leaders causing organisations to commit significant resources to leadership development. While much is said about the effectiveness of leadership development, the question is how effective is leadership development when it does not start as a practice early in a person’s career?
Today’s challenging business times require extraordinary leadership, and increasingly companies across the globe are heavily invested in finding and empowering leaders. They compete for the best people outside of the organisation and also realise that their strength lies in a well-developed talent pool. Yet, they still fall behind in truly building the leadership capacity they need for the future.
Research reveals that business executives rate leadership development as “critically important” and declare it a strategic priority, but many of the people who are appointed into executive positions do not seem to be ready for the complexity that comes with their position. This transition need not be so tough if the person has had the opportunity to develop leadership skills earlier in his/her career. This thinking is in direct contrast to the conventional approach of first appointing leaders into their positions and then working to improve their leadership shortcomings.
Executive search firms can add value in this area as they understand the complexity of skills and requirements leaders need in C-suite positions. Through leadership development, we can help leaders earlier in their career to be more self-aware and understand their personal purpose and how it is aligned with the world of work. Which, in turn, also improves their cohesion with others and ability to shape collaborative high performing cultures.
It begins with self-awareness
Many people advance through the company ranks because of functional expertise, often without having their leadership potential taken into account. Interestingly, up to 64% of new appointments have the skills for the job but are unsuccessful in the first 18 to 24 months due to an inability to read the cultural clues and not understanding the organisation’s dynamics. As a result, few managers possess the crucial self-awareness that will help them to adapt well in the C-suite. Often in instances like this, leadership interventions come too late and these leaders are pushed aside, pushed out or just don’t perform. The money invested in appointing the new leader is wasted as their potential isn’t transformed into leadership performance and business results.
Conversations with successful leaders reveal that if they understand, through self awareness, their purpose early in their career and then continue their self-development throughout their career, their levels of resilience increase, making them more effective when dealing with trying situations and more effective in collaborating with others.
It continues with ongoing cohesion with others
Admittedly, much of a leader’s focus needs to be on realising company strategy and driving bottom line, so investment in functional skills is a necessity. However, we can’t forget that a core driver for a senior leader’s success is employee engagement and accountability.
Arriving in an executive role with a strong leadership foundation results in behaviour that inspires people to take initiative and give their best right from the start. The alternative is that if the leader’s character has not been cultivated early in their career they battle to gain credibility and collaboration from others and will be plagued by high levels of staff turnover and reduced operating success.
Leadership influence also depends largely on building trust through ongoing team collaboration and consistent communication. This requires a set of teachable skills and resources that are embedded over time. This should be done sooner rather than later because the quest for personal development becomes a habit and a practice that continues throughout a person’s career with a huge benefit to organisational sustainability.
According to Brand Pretorius, retired CEO of McCarthy Toyota South Africa, “Leading with the power of presence is key to successful leadership.” It is relationship-driven and only those with high self-awareness and regard, who lead by example, will have the power of influence rather than control.
It results in driving a collaborative and high performing culture
In these turbulent times, ensuring organisational sustainability not only depends on the organisation’s relevance to external audiences, but also relies on a strong internal culture that embraces change. These cultures result in high performance and ensure sustainable business success. Effective leaders are the key to creating these high-performance cultures.
Cultures are made by the different ways people interact with each other, the ways people are led, how the organisation evaluates its performance, the physical work environment and how organisational knowledge is managed. It is well known that leaders shape culture based on their perception of self, others and the organisation as a whole. They set the context within which others strive for excellence and work to achieve organisational goals. Leaders are viewed as role models, and employees are constantly on the lookout to see if their behaviour is consistent with the organisational values and purpose.
When a leader steps into the new role with the ability to navigate high levels of cultural complexity and adjust their behaviour accordingly, they begin with the advantage of being able to quickly expand their circle of influence, gain trust and drive the organisation forward. Having the right building blocks in place defines the ability for leaders to drive the organisation towards success in turbulent times and hold their team accountable for high performance.
Food for thought
Although much has been written about how leaders and their organisations can thrive and grow through effecting meaningful change. The shortfall is that leaders are not sufficiently invited to create habits that reflect on their experience. They should seek to discover new ways to challenge and grow themselves, their team and their organisation. Seamless transition into a new senior leadership role, whether it is a promotion or an external placement, requires adaptive skills that are seldom the focus of managerial development programmes. This set of skills represents a step change that is defined by the leader’s capacity to:
- Transform thinking;
- Shift levels of conversation;
- Build collaborative high performing cultures
- Redefine and adjust to new complexities and priorities; and
- Increase personal impact.
When more money is spent on functional and managerial skills rather than on building a solid leadership platform, it becomes necessary to invest huge resources at a senior level, with the risk of a low return on investment. The question is how do we focus on turning potential into effective practices sooner rather than later?
Effective, well-thought through leadership development programs introduced early in the career of managers can help them evolve into impactful leaders. They will understand their purpose, be able to engage and collaborate effectively with others and shape the organisational culture in such a way that their organisations will be successful and will stand the test of time.