Tag Archives: Education and Training

Our Leaders of Tomorrow

Who are our next generation of leaders – who is going to step up and take the reins?

 Lead In, Lead On: Leaders and Culture

One of the key issues that I continue to note is that many companies are not adept at identifying the gaps in their business. This includes gaining a genuine and methodical understanding of leadership practices and effectiveness in the organisation. It is very difficult to solve an issue that is not identified or put another way, a question unasked remains unsolved. Non-awareness can be due to various reasons often cultural, political or personal. In a broader, strategic sense this lack of identification can be seen in the outcomes and sub-cultures born out of poor leadership. Leadership development is a theme explored in a recent article in the InsideHR magazine titled, The Best leaders: Few and Far, Born Not Made.

A significant leadership shortage is looming over the world…Leadership is in crisis. Baby boomers are retiring and fewer Gen Y’s want to step up to the plate, creating a massive gap. Quality leaders are now hard to find. We have some data here on 3000 Australian leaders and 50 percent of the leaders in our study are creating environments that are demotivating for people.

If identification and subsequent action is not a deliberate and discussed corporate goal, then other seemingly more critical focus areas will be followed instead. Denial of leadership ineffectiveness in the first place means that businesses ignore the existing issues and not enable future growth in individuals and culture as a result.

Part of the problem is that there are too many leaders who just don’t measure up.

Another related issue is the mismanagement in effort and action for those leaders who are not capable of effectively leading and developing their teams. It is a corporate and social responsibility to ensure we provide the platform, support and opportunity for leaders to contribute and grow in their roles. In my experience this is most commonly performed poorly, with the effort to change and address challenges seemingly too difficult, or is not performed at all.

I have been in positions where individual employees have been dismissed based on poor, ongoing performance and behaviour – some who are long-term employees. When this is discussed at senior levels, there is acknowledgment that these team members had been a ‘problem’ for many years in some cases. My response in return is always, if this was a known issue, then why was no action taken to either develop or remove them? To date, there has never been a reasonable response to this question.

Denial, ignorance and/or laziness to act only lead to dismal results. Is this something you are prepared to accept…or do you wish to alter the outcomes by changing your contribution? A challenging question to answer and even more so to exploit. It is an important query however, reflecting the tytpe of issue highlighted by poor leadership practices and a culture that accepts varying degrees of mediocrity.

Creating a regular process to identify actions for the development of your leaders is an important step. This may form part of a bi-annual review, linked to other formal appraisal or assessment processes. A quarterly review of the progress, goals, contribution and direction of all team members could act as a catalyst for discussion.

A focus on how results are achieved as well as focusing on the end results themselves adds more value to the process. How we get there is as important as the outcome, enabling relationship-building, trust and process improvement throughout the process, amongst other benefits. When we focus on the outcome only, there is a tendency to cut corners and drive aspects of culture that ignore many necessary positive aspects…and often drive negative elements of culture also. This is just as important when focusing on leadership as a contributor to and receiver of cultural growth initiatives. The InsideHR article highlights 5 key leadership trends:

1. A shortage of leaders means there will be a gap in middle managers.
2. Succession planning is likely to be the hot issue ahead.
3. The best companies will be out recruiting future leaders.
4. The shortage of leaders will shape HR strategies.
5. There will be a heavy focus on leadership training.

A willingness to acknowledge the gaps in leadership and developing a culture of learning and growth, along with succession planning steps is a useful next stage. The challenge for many organisations is their willingness to spend the time and funding to understand the existing situation and culture. Considering the current status of individual leaders and the organisational leadership position should be part of the review process.

A blind hope that culture and leadership will somehow ‘look after itself’ is naive and poor business practice. The effort and discussions at senior levels that drive culture and direction can be difficult. However the benefits of developing strength in leadership now and for the future can be seen and felt…now and in the future.

How does your business stack up?


Filed under Employee Engagement, Leadership

Learning To Lead

I often discuss with my clients and students the benefits of formal and informal leadership, taking the view that you don’t need to have direct reports to practice and become proficient in leadership.

Learning To Lead: Lead In, Lead On and CoachStation

I recently wrote a blog on the Linked2Leadership website, titled Leadership Experience: Where Do Theory and Reality Meet? Since publishing, I reflected on my original theme and the many response and comments received. Leadership is a learned and inherent skill. My current role is focused on changing the culture within a mature and experienced organisation. However, the core elements of leadership are relatively immature within my team and we are dedicating considerable time and resource to ensure that the current environment of leadership risk becomes a positive element of our culture. This takes considerable work and there have already been ‘casualties’, with some people either incapable or unwilling to join us on the journey. This is fine, but I consistently challenge my leadership team to be positive that we can look any of our team members in the eye and know that we have done all that we can to support and develop them along the way.

We are leaders who will not hold people accountable for something that was not a clear and established expectation or standard in the first place!

The theme of leadership and its development within a team and organisation is always unique in  my experience. Each culture and sub-culture has its own quirks and nuances. The ability to tap into an individual person’s motivations, beliefs and existing capability is one of the more exciting parts of my role. Applying this to a team adds even greater complexity, challenge and reward. I remain on the fence as to what degree these traits and attributes are inherent, as opposed to learned. I think they are an individualised, situational, personalised set of behaviours and traits that are more complex than I originally suspected. I seek depth to questions such as these by breaking down some of the key elements of leadership, when performed well.

It is clear however, that the level of support and reinforcement that occurs has a direct influence on development. Many employees in the workplace will tell you that their leaders have stopped being teachers. Successful leaders never stop teaching because they are so self-motivated to learn themselves…Successful leaders take the time to mentor their colleagues and make the investment to sponsor those who have proven they are able and eager to advance. (1)

Mentoring and accessing suitable role models are key inputs to leadership development. The desire and effort required are important points as it advocates that much of the art and success of leadership stems from being exposed to the examples set by other leaders and managers. Additional attributes include the desire and ability to:

  • Develop others and create a team of people who are able to work autonomously
  • Work within and as a team
  • Be more of a ‘giver’ not a ‘taker’
  • Learn to be OK with failure – repeated failure, without change or growth highlights a deeper issue related to self-esteem, self-awareness and genuine belief
  • Investigate, understand and respect the key requirements of leadership
  • Possess a willingness and proactive attitude to develop themselves and others
  • Create an atmosphere of accountability, ownership and development within their teams
  • Maintain a ‘future-state’, forward-looking and results attitude and focus

What have been your experiences in developing a leadership culture? Let me know your thoughts and comments.

“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” -
Ralph Nader

(1)    http://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2013/02/18/the-most-successful-leaders-do-15-things-automatically-every-day/

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Leadership, Employee Relationships and Development

Has the role and context of leadership changed over the last few decades and if so, in what ways?

Leadership fundamentals continue to be tweaked and challenged, however ultimately the base requirements for effective leadership remain the same. The environment and cultures within which we lead continue to evolve also. Technology, systems, the global nature of work and various other changes to the modern work world all influence the inputs required and outputs gained from leadership and the capabilities most employers and employees are looking for.

I recently read with interest two articles in the July edition of the Financial Review – Boss magazine titled, ‘The New Employer-Employee Contract’ and ‘Crisis in Business Leadership’.

For most of the 20th century the compact between employers and employees was based on loyalty. That is now gone, replaced…by a transactional laissez-faire approach that serves neither party well. A workable new compact must recognise that jobs are unlikely to be permanent but should encourage lasting alliances nonetheless. The key is that both the employer and employee seek to add value to each other. Employees invest in the company’s adaptability; the company invests in employees’ employability. Three simple policies can make this new compact tangible. They are: hiring employees for explicit ‘tours of duty'; encouraging employees to build networks and expertise outside the organisation and establishing active alumni networks to maintain career-long relationships.

A recent study demonstrates the inherent risks and current state of leadership. The propensity for ‘people in charge’ to be focusing on the traditional management requirements for their roles as opposed to leadership continue to be an issue. The opportunities for smaller businesses to develop a point of difference through leadership flexibility and agility based on reduced bureaucracy and opportunity to act and react more quickly is highlighted. Additionally, there is a clear delineation in a view of the organisations ability and willingness to dedicate time, funding and energy to leadership development, depending on the level of the business an individual works within.

The verdict from the University of Sydney’s and Boss’s second survey of executives is that our workplaces also suffer a failure of leadership; at least from the perspective of senior managers.

We interviewed members of The Financial Review Business Leaders panel and 137 mid-level and senior manager completed an online survey. Those in middle management ranks are more optimistic about the way organisations are run. But a quarter of senior business executives warn that their companies are being over-managed and under-led. Just over 5 per cent think that developing good leaders is something their company takes seriously. Only 11 per cent believe their business excels at identifying future leaders, according to research.

Too much focus on management – not leadership

“We focus, as people come up through their careers, on their management ability – are they able to drive a profit or run [the business] most efficiently – rather than leadership,” Lord says. “Management skills aren’t as important because you can build the right team around you.”

The overwhelming feedback was that companies’ “management systems reward financial performance rather than leadership skills”. The clear message is for more “time and recognition” to be dedicated to developing leadership experience.

Results and data from the survey also found:

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Setting New Leaders Up To Succeed…Or Fail!

Supporting and developing new leaders before they are provided with their first leadership opportunity seems obvious, but is not always the case.

The importance of providing a base for leadership in any organisation starts with the new, first-time manager who is given a fresh opportunity to add to the success of the business. To be ‘set up for success’ through a documented, planned and robust development process is the most likely way that a new leader is going to establish the most solid platform to succeed. Leadership is difficult. The many iterations of personalities, style, beliefs, biases and other factors make working with people a complex and sometimes difficult role. Leading and motivating people via formal or informal leadership roles makes this even more difficult.

Too many companies set first-time managers up for failure by not giving them the training and support they need to succeed. That, plus the tendency in tough economic times to see training as a “soft cut” is bad news for the quality of corporate leadership. (1)

A succession plan of worth is one step to meeting this need. As mentioned, the need for identification of candidates and related leadership development before the role becomes available is important. Formal training, one-to-one coaching and development, a supportive culture, leadership role-models, reinforcement of learning and a degree of tailoring for each individual leader are key elements in achieving a successful leadership development program. However, the fact that a program exists does not guarantee success. How the program is embedded and applied within the organisational hierarchy and structure will greatly influence the outcomes.

Novice team leaders, supervisors and managers chosen for promotion on the basis of seniority or technical competence…receive “woefully inadequate” support to prepare them for their new role. (1)

The first blog I ever wrote was called Falling Into Leadership as this issue has been around for some years.

An individual taking on a leadership role is often something that has ‘just happened’. Being a genuine leader does not come from the role and title designated to you but rather from your decision-making, inclusiveness, delegation skills, ability to communicate and other, well-recognised and documented traits. Many of these traits can be learned and enhanced through proper coaching and development…There is no doubt that the most effective and respected leaders in any role or organisation are those who recognise that they are not in their role because they have all the answers. Rather they are successful because they understand their own strengths and limitations, possessing the emotional intelligence to surround themselves with a team who have various strengths and skillsets that contribute to the synergy and effectiveness of the team.

Is it time to look at your existing structure and program? Do you have a program of development of leaders that seeks to encourage the next group of leaders within your organisation or reinforce the skills and capability of your existing leadership group?

Unfortunately, the answer is most commonly no. Acknowledging the importance and benefits of effective leadership, consider what you may want to do differently to ensure this is not the case in 12 months. All the best with your review and actions!

(1) Why First Time Managers Fail: BRW, May 30 2013

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Sir Ken Robinson: Education, Our Kids and the Future

My wife sent me an email with a link to the Top 20 TedTalks since 2006, ranked by ‘views’. I watched the number 1 on the list by Sir Ken Robinson (>13m) and was so impressed and inspired I felt compelled to share with the remaining 6 billion people who are yet to watch his presentation (well, those who read my blogs may be a little lower in numbers, but it’s a start!).

I must confess I had never heard of Sir Ken previously, however, quite simply, his TedTalk is a must see! His views regarding learning, children and where we are getting it wrong are unique and thought-provoking. There are many outcomes that we are seeing as adults that link back to our childhoods and early education. There are also many key statements made that we can take away and apply to our own learning and application. Effective leaders will relate to many of these points.

I have also highlighted a few of the key quotes, for those who may wish to recap after viewing the talk – I would not skip watching it though, as Sir Ken Robinson has a keen wit and a style of delivery that is hard to match. I guess that is why 13.5 million people have already had a look. Spend 20 minutes now viewing it yourself – you will not be disappointed.

My contention is, all kids have tremendous talents…and we squander them, pretty ruthlessly. So, I want to talk about education and I want to talk about creativity. My contention is that creativity is now as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.

Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. They’re not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original…and by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies this  way. We stigmatize mistakes. If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.

In the next 30 years, according to UNESCO, more people worldwide will be graduating through education than since the beginning of history.

What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now that we use this gift wisely and that we avert some of the scenarios that we’ve talked about. And the only way we’ll do this is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are. Our task is to educate the whole being, so they can face this future. By the way, we may not see this future, but our kids will. Our job is to help them make something of it.

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The Current Challenge Of Leadership

CoachStation: Building Leadership, Talent and EQ

People-oriented issues are the biggest factors impacting business success in 2012.

A recent report by the business group, SixSeconds, titled The 2012 Workplace Issues Report: Insights On The People Side of Performance seeks to identify the key challenges in the workplace today. The report details the results of a global survey which explores top issues as well as employee attitudes and the role of emotional intelligence in solving those key issues. The findings collate 775 responses from leaders and employees worldwide, representing various levels of employment, industries and sectors. There are many interesting results and data-sets stemming from the survey, all providing depth to the importance of people-related leadership activities.

58% of survey respondents list ‘Leadership’ as the biggest ‘people-side’ issue in their organisation.

Additionally, the survey highlights key words that identify fundamental areas of concern for business. The views of the respondents were summarised in the most frequently used words collated from the verbatim comments. In order, they were:

  1. Retention
  2. Talent
  3. Leadership
  4. Communication

Fascinating results, with these trends and themes entrenched even more soundly in a few of my most recent discussions. It seems that the ability for an organisation to join the dots for their employees to the broader vision; hold onto key staff; provide effective leadership; and supply opportunities for growth and a reason to stay are as important as ever.

I regularly attend the Leadership Effectiveness Group (LEG) organised by a peer, Sonia McDonald, which seeks to bring like-minded people together to share concepts and experiences about leadership. Last week I was invited to facilitate the session where the topic was: What are your challenges as a leader?

It was a great evening, where every attendee had the opportunity to participate and provide insights based on their own experiences and industry. The following points were raised during the LEG event and may be of value and assistance to others, as we found that the vast majority of issues and challenges were not industry-specific. Core themes included:

  • The high need for all employees to be self-aware and understand the impact they can and do have on other employees and clients.
  • The requirement to align personal needs with business needs – leaders must understand the link between the ‘work you’ and the ‘external you’, if it exists.
  • The benefits and additional challenges that derive from modern technology and the links to Social media – it is important to understand the risks and rewards of Social Media.
  • Flexibility is important, although there is an acknowledgment that measuring effectiveness and efficiency contribute to the ability to remain flexible.
  • Business is not only about the bottom-line.
  • A clear line must be drawn between friendship, leadership, standards and expectations. This is a challenge where friendship is often confused with connectedness.
  • Being able to differentiate between technical and adaptive challenges. Adaptive challenges are those where there is no known way or method to solve the issue – you are on the edge of competence. Technical challenges are those that can be solved through existing knowledge, skills, background etc.
  • The prominence of capable technical employees being promoted into leadership roles without the proper training, support and development – leadership competence is assumed.
  • Understanding individual personalities and work styles – related to the ability to effectively influence others.

…and the final word from the LEG discussion belongs to Bill, who left us with an excellent point regarding ‘soft-skills’.

He proposed that the name in itself is a bit misleading as the so called ‘soft-skills’ are actually ‘hard-skills’ in reality.

One of the more compelling results in the SixSeconds survey was seen in the accumulated responses to the question: Of the important issues your organization is facing, what percentage are tied to people / relationships and what percentage are tied to financial / technical issues?

66% of these important issues are ‘People / Relational based, with the remaining 34% being ‘Financial / Technical”

Interestingly, by the end of the LEG evening it was evident that a few core themes stood out which were very consistent with those expressed in the survey. Developing soft-skills (or ‘hard skills’) requires effort, focus and self-awareness amongst other elements. Is this why the leadership skills that fall under this category are often the ones that are least practiced and improved. Is it fear? If  a leader asks the question of his or her team, they may not like nor be willing to acknowledge the answer. So is there a view for some leaders, based on fear, that it is best to not ask in the first place?

The responses to these challenging questions are different for every one of us. The importance of understanding your own needs and motivations are key to understanding how you deliver as a leader. The evidence that this remains an issue can be seen in surveys and discussions such as those highlighted. The most important element is not the data itself. That is simply an outcome.

The willingness to acknowledge and take action to develop these skills and attributes, to become a more effective leader will drive improvement in leadership effectiveness and ensure that we are seeing different survey results in years to come.

What are your major leadership challenges for the remainder of 2012 and into 2013?

I would like to thank Sonia and the members of the Leadership Effectiveness Group for their input, insights and depth of discussion last week, which has contributed to much of the content for this blog.


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At Last We’re Engaged – Leading Your Team (Part 2)

Is employee engagement relevant in today‘s workforce?

Earlier this week I wrote the first part of this blog relating to Employee Engagement. In part two I examine some of the leadership themes, highlights and a few statistics supporting the relevance and importance of engaging employees.

CoachStation: Leadership and Employee Engagement

A leader‘s ability to consistently demonstrate and apply relational skills has a direct correlation to the level of engagement an individual may feel. Providing genuine leadership is key. There appears to be a gap between what employees state is occurring and what leaders feel they are applying in reality.

Data and surveys continually reflect the discrepancy between what leaders believe is occurring and what their team members state.

This is often reflected in frequency and quality of the levels of engagement through formal and informal communication, coaching and development opportunities.

There are many leadership traits and skills identified in various books and literature. However, a handful of values-based attributes are identified consistently towards the top of the ‘criticality-list‘ i.e. they are identified as a deal-breaker for many employees. Over the past 5 years I have conducted values assessments with over 35 people and trust is identified more often in people‘s core values than any other value. (1)

In addition to my own research and observations, it is of interest to understand the core reasons a breakdown in relationships and engagement between an employee and manager occurs. Of relevance to this discussion is the recent study that showed organisations were falling short when it came to ‘preparing‘ employees for leadership. The question of sustainable leadership was raised – if we are not preparing our leaders to be good managers then we are not creating good role models for future leaders and so the cycle (of poor management) continues.

This research shows most people leave a job because of their relationship with their immediate manager.

Confronting a boss with feedback about their behaviour and its impact was one course of action to consider, although this can be a difficult conversation. A lack of ‘trust and integrity‘ was the main reason employees would ‘fire‘ a boss. A third of respondents nominated trust as their main issue and a further 24 per cent would leave a micro-manager. Other noted negative leadership traits were, not providing development opportunities (12 per cent); not providing open and honest feedback (12 per cent); stealing credit for ideas and work (10 per cent); and not providing coaching support when needed (8 per cent). (2)

Although not a definitive list, the following traits and attributes highlight poor leadership behaviour as identified through my experiences:

  • An unwillingness or inability to delegate effectively – be willing to take on tasks yourself otherwise don‘t delegate – you don‘t want to be seen as a ‘shirker‘.
  • Inconsistent language and messages – your team members will see and take note of some of what you say and all that you do!
  • Not leading by example.
  • A need to be liked rather than respected.
  • An inability to communicate effectively – this has an alignment to making too many assumptions without ‘checking in‘.
  • A lack of self-awareness which is also matched by an unwillingness to identify and take action for one‘s own development, which regularly leads to an inability to develop others through a lack of skill to do so and avoidance based on the thought-process that ‗I am not developing myself, so how can I hold other‘s accountable for developing themselves?‘

In this context, possibly the best way to summarise the importance of accountability in personal and professional development is to review the key Principles of Leadership as itemised by the US Army. The listed attributes and skills offer a worthy checklist of several core areas to focus on to become an effective leader, whilst highlighting the link to employee engagement:

1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement – in order to know yourself, you have to understand your ‘be, know, and do’ attributes. Seeking self-improvement means continually strengthening your attributes. This can be accomplished through self-study, formal classes, reflection, and interacting with others.
2. Be technically proficient – as a leader, you must know your job and have a solid familiarity with your employees tasks.
3. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions – search for ways to guide your organization to new heights. And when things go wrong, they always do sooner or later — do not blame others. Analyze the situation, take corrective action, and move on to the next challenge.
4. Make sound & timely decisions – use good problem solving, decision making and planning tools.
5. Set the example – be a good role model for your employees. They must not only hear what they are expected to do, but also see. We must become the change we want to see – Mahatma Gandhi.
6. Know your people and look out for their well-being – know human nature and the importance of sincerely caring for your workers.
7. Keep your workers informed – know how to communicate with not only them, but also seniors and other key people.
8. Develop a sense of responsibility in your workers – help to develop good character traits that will help them carry out their professional responsibilities.
9. Ensure that tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished – communication is the key to this responsibility.
10. Train as a team – although many so called leaders call their organization, department, section, etc. a team; they are not really teams…they are just a group of people doing their jobs.
11. Use the full capabilities of your organization – by developing a team spirit, you will be able to employ your organization, department, section, etc. to its fullest capabilities. (3)

An honest self-appraisal and dedicating time and effort to developing self-awareness traits can be one of the most challenging aspects of leading people. The alternative is to assume, act in denial of circumstance, work in isolation or not build a genuine connection with your team and the individuals who form this unit.

This style of leadership will not enhance employee engagement.

The highlighted principles of leadership are as relevant today as when first introduced decades ago. It is worth reflecting on the following questions:

  • If employee engagement is so closely linked to leadership and these principles are arguably not revolutionary concepts, why is there such disparity between what leaders and employees say is actually happening in the workplace?
  • Could it be that we overemphasise how well and often we apply these principles in reality and/or underemphasise their importance?

Leadership is not easy – and neither is dealing with the many people-related issues and challenges that arise. Through managing these issues and assessing your leadership strengths and development areas regularly and taking appropriate action, your team will see that you are committed to your role and to your people.

Although not the only aspect of effective leadership, a focus on your employees and understanding what motivates each person is a solid base to work from. When aligned with an attitude to grow as a leader (not simply being a ‘manager‘) the related success, joy and fulfillment that derive from this transformation can be one of the most rewarding aspects of your work-life.

Food for thought for those in charge, as effective leaders continually review their own situation and progress and take appropriate action to ensure the perceived or real gaps are reduced or removed. This is worth considering as an employee, as a leader or your role as both. What does this mean for you?

The six most important words: “I admit I made a mistake.”
The five most important words: “You did a good job.”
The four most important words: “What is your opinion?”
The three most important words: “If you please.”
The two most important words: “Thank you,”
The one most important word: “We”
The least important word: “I”

1. Personal Values – One View: CoachStation
2. How To Tell If Your Boss Is A Dud: CareerOne
3. Principles of Leadership: US Army, 1983

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