By Michael Holland

To reap the benefits of a highly engaged workforce, you must have really good leaders.  Really good leaders know their behavioral styles and the traits and habits that work well in various situations and environments.  They know their leadership DNA.  They gained this insight because they were randomly picked to be leader during a super-secret lottery.  Then they were groomed, educated, and experienced in the art and science of leading well.  Next, the special powers that be scattered them around to various organizations so that no two would be likely to land together.

Well, it feels like that is the way it happened at times.  The reality is that organizations just do not have systems in place that identify, build, deploy and sustain really good leaders.

Let me know if this scenario sounds familiar:

  • A manager leaves.
  • Your organization crisis-manages through the opening scrambling for a path forward
  • They promote the best individual contributor among the group
  • Give them a pat on the back
  • Leave them alone for 4 years

Surprisingly, this young leader quits.  And then the organization simply repeats the process.

If you’re new to managing others, then this next part doesn’t pertain to you.  For the rest of you who have been in management for a number of years or decades, what have you done to create a sustainable pipeline of leaders that are groomed, educated, and experienced in the art and science of leading well?

The challenge for you and your organizations is that you’re doing okay.  You’re making money, serving customers/clients/patients and moving forward a little bit each year.  Over time, a false feeling of success permeates through the ranks of leadership as pay increases, bonuses get paid and egos expand.

The questions that bother me are:

  • What opportunity has been left on the table for less than optimal people utilization?
  • How much better could we have served our customers/clients/patients?
  • How much surplus time and money could we have donated to help others?
  • Are we truly proud of our culture?
  • Are we truly proud of ALL of our leaders and the ways they behave?

Thousands upon thousands of employees wish organizations would invest time to build their pipeline of leadership talent.  Here’s what you could do. . .

  • Create a snapshot of the leadership DNA that works well within your culture.  Or take the opposite approach and determine the leadership DNA that is horrible in your culture.
  • Identify the styles and traits and habits that have made or will make specific leaders successful in your culture.
  • Analyze your leaders and potential leaders against the DNA model you’ve created.  Yep, this will be hard and there will be some difficult discussions regarding so and so.  But those conversations and resulting actions are what leaders do to enable an organization to not only be sustainable but also to grow for the future.
  • Educate all your leaders.  Do something to stir up the leadership intellect and curiosity.  I, of course, would recommend you bring in an excellent firm like ours to guide the development of your leaders.  But if that’s too big of a step, then at least order a set of books and institute a reading/discussion series.  Any Patrick Lencioni book will work well as an easy read.  Want a heavier life:  Try Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  (see our #Leadwell Knowledgebase for some other recommendations)
  • Create leadership muscles through experiences.  Do something to help leaders learn how to lead outside of the functional expertise.
    • Have them jointly manage a department/function during the interim period while recruiting a new leader and then have a conversation with the CEO/President regarding what they learned about themselves as leaders.
    • Push them to lead special projects outside of their area of expertise.  Force three or four leaders together into a group that must solve/analyze/research/lead something together.

It’s so easy to be a drift leader allowing things to happen while missing the opportunity to build leadership capacity.  It’s much harder to lead well and enable the organization to not only be sustainable but also to grow for the future.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • How would you describe your leadership DNA to:
    • Your closest peer
    • A 15 year-old kid
    • Your CEO
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how well did your organization prepare you for your first management job?  How did this impact the first 36 months on the job?
  • If your organization won’t invest in building your leadership expertise, what steps could you take to develop yourself?