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Make Leadership Real, Not Just a Topic

Here is a heartfelt shout out to all the hard working organizational development, leadership consultants, coaches, and in-house leadership professionals dedicated to helping companies understand “why and how do we focus on leadership?” This economy, since 2008, has been one of the toughest in your lifetime – but hang in there! With at least two decades of leadership books, research studies from the likes of McKinsey, MIT, Harvard Business Review, and many other top name think tank firms, the leadership industry remains young and with much more innovation still ahead when it comes to companies applying leadership practice deep into company operations.

Beyond a tough few economic years, to achieve innovation in the leadership industry – this young industry – we have some other hurdles to overcome … here is a few of them:

  • The word “leadership” is an over-exposed term representing an unending topic. Because the topic of leadership can cover so much ground, be attached to so many views, tools, and programs it drowns in relevance. The topic has been muddled by too much of itself.
  • Speaking of tools… companies struggle on a few fronts here… one front specifically, there are simply too many tools (i.e. personality, strengths, aptitude, 360s, etc…) that are “lightly” used and spread across populations of the workforce. What I mean by “lightly” is the tool gets its readout from someone certified in the instrument and then filed away in the desk drawer never to see the light of day again.
  • Leadership programs are just that programs with a start and end date – everyone gets their certificate and picture but the principles of the program have to live in the dialogue and reality of the life in the day to day otherwise as a leader told me – after the two week program he felt “there was no continuity” with the program and the reality of leading in the organization’s culture.
  • Leadership has much more of footprint than with “high potentials.” In fact, how do you determine who can be shaped into a high potential until they are given the right leadership mentors and framework to spread their wings?
  • Leadership as topic in companies often stands by itself and isn’t as integrated into other key areas such as the employee engagement process as it could be – so many separate point solutions to drive human performance exist that beg for connection.

The good news is all these hurdles represent a frontier for continued innovation and integration for the leadership industry and for companies dedicated to the belief that talented people are their most competitive and sustainable asset. Some thoughts on overcoming hurdles:

  • Set out to equip people to lead as soon as they get into a leadership position regardless if they are deemed as high potential or not – teach leadership 101 meaningfully and engage their leaders deep into the process.
  • Integrate leading edge insight tools to give leaders a rich picture of themselves, for instance, personality, passions, motivational drivers, and inspiration style – frame this for them in a way that allows the leader to tell a powerful story of how and what they can uniquely lead. Can you imagine how much easier strategic role assignment and succession planning would become if you had all this information available to help leaders grow?
  • Set up process and tools in the company that empower anyone at any level of the company to own their leadership story and growth plan – beyond basic career goals and planning.
  • Teach leaders of leaders to become “leadership guidance counselors” to publicly model their own leadership development and lead the conversations to help those leaders below them own their plans for real.
  • Open a leadership lab in the company to pilot new and innovative leadership techiniques and tools – use this lab with a variety of workforce popluations to learn how different areas of the company may require different kinds of leadership and fit the right solutions to meet those requirements instead of one nail and one hammer for the whole company.

When leadership becomes real it lives in the fabric of conversations and wildly deepens engagement. Great leadership growth discussions have a way of opening people up and feeling like they matter. People are hungry for these conversations after some hard and tough years where work life balance is rare, assumed company loyalty is shriveling in the face of a global economy, and people are “branding” themselves in a free agent knowledge based workforce. If you believe attracting, growing, and harnessing talent is the top sustaining factor for company growth and survival then be bold in empowering your leadership folks and set them on a mission to answer the question, “what will make leadership real here?”