I have opined much recently on the importance of building more leaders instead of just building followers. That is on of the hallmarks of an organization with a “Leadership Culture.” But, what are the benefits of creating such a culture?
Perhaps the greatest benefit of creating a leadership culture is that it provides a steady supply of capable and experienced leaders to constantly propel the organization forward. If you love sports, you could call their your leadership bench.
How strong is your leadership bench?
When it comes to leadership bench strength, some organizations’ benches are pitifully weak. These organizations often have a leadership model that is personality based and sometimes even “cult-ish” in appearance. There is one leader and everyone else pays homage and is fiercely loyal to that leader. Dissent is never allowed. Free and creative thinking and expression are not valued when they differ from the leader.As a result, the organization plateaus or declines over time. Or, worse yet, it implodes when the leader has a crisis. Often, it never recovers from that crisis. The end is usually ugly.
Some organizations have depended on the same set of leaders for years without ever developing new leaders to succeed them. Even some organizations that have attempted to develop leaders have done so without a strategic or integrated approach to leadership development.
So, what should we be doing?
Every organization is unique. But there are enough similarities (even between profit and non-profit organizations) to make the following ideas worthy of consideration. So, if you or your organization wants to get serious and build leadership bench strength, here are some tips or suggestions for you:
Identify and nurture your high-potential leaders — This idea has a built-in assumption that you can or have already identified some leaders within your organization with potential. Assuming that, then pay special attention to those that possess a strong affinity for and attraction to leadership roles. Some of these may be operating below the radar for fear that the established leaders will become threatened by their existence. Don’t be threatened by them. Embrace them and nurture them. If you do not, they are often the most likely to leave your organization for one that will embrace them.
Invest strategically in this group — Leadership training abounds these days. And you can send these young leaders away to seminars, symposiums, and conferences. But, could those budgetary dollars be spent in a wiser and more focused way? Yes! The average 3-day conference is upwards of $1,500-$3,000. Add travel, accommodations and other expenses and the cost could easily exceed $5,000. You could get that same young leader a coach for 6 to 12 weeks of customized 1-on-1 sessions targeted at that individual and your organization if you will contract with a leadership coach. Now, you have a targeted approach rather than a mass-market product that your young leader attends and observes.
Provide mentoring or coaching support from within the organization — Don’t just give them a title and a pay raise. Give them support from internal leaders who are already well-versed in the actual affairs of the organization. This practical and focused mentoring and coaching can also instill the other “cultures” that the organization holds dear.
Constantly assess new and existing leadership talent — There are a variety of assessment tools and 360 surveys in the marketplace to help you assess the leadership aptitudes, skills, behaviors, and values of these individuals. But, do not limit these tools for identifying potential. Use them to identify progress and hold leaders accountable for growth and development. These tools give the senior leaders valuable insights to help them what developmental or remedial steps are needed to increase the effectiveness of the emerging and existing leaders.
Develop career and succession plans — The organization that waits for the need to replace an existing leader to begin to think about that process is already woefully behind schedule. In other words, we shouldn’t wait until the need for a new leader is necessary. As I indicated in the first tip regarding identifying these leaders, you must provide a career path for these folks. Leaders are driven to lead. And if you will not provide them the opportunity, they will seek it elsewhere. Sit down with these leaders and create a plan for progressive leadership that demonstrates to them that yo are serious about this. This does not mean that you are to guarantee them a senior leadership position. But they must see a path forward that they can take that will provide the challenges and opportunities that they are seeking.
And why should we be doing it?
One of the greatest benefits to any organization of creating a leadership culture is the opportunity to invite others into the conversation about leadership from across all levels of the organization. That conversation may be scary at first. Some existing leaders will not be comfortable mingling with and conversing with the “little people” out there. (And if they are uncomfortable, that tells you something about their openness to this whole concept, doesn’t it?)
Let’s make it as easy as possible to have those conversations. Schedule some brown bag sessions with folks who are interested and willing and engage them in some dialog. You could start by asking some questions like these:
- What do you think about the current state of leadership in this organization?
- What improvements would you like to see?
- What is one thing you think the senior leadership team needs to hear that no one is saying to them?
- What would you focus on first if you were leading this organization?
- What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our organization today?
- What is the area where we are being the most successful today?
- What do you need to become more successful as a leader today and in the future?
These questions are in no particular order. And there are many more that I could have added. These question will make you a little nervous to ask them. And others will be nervous to answer them. But, as you address these kinds of questions, you send a signal that you are open to being surrounded by other strong leaders. You demonstrate that you are making a commitment to raise the bar on the bench strength of leadership that exists in your organization.
One quick and final reminder
I urge you to build your bench strength within your organization. But it comes with a warning. Don’t let these new and invigorated leaders sit on that bench too long. You are showing them a path to lead with you. And they are anxious to join you.