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Commit to Developing People

People and leadership development are a continuum (Real-World Leadership Development, Part 2)

Li #219 Commit to People Development
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WE ARE CONSIDERING why so few organizations are producing new and better leaders, and what you can do to ensure that new leaders will emerge in your sphere.

In Part 1, I offered four propositions about leadership development. Today I want to add four more before we move on to describe how an aspiring leadership developer should think and approach this task.

You may not see yourself as concerned with developing leaders, but let me challenge that right away with our next proposition:

Leadership Development Proposition 5:

The ONE way to know who can be an effective leader: YOU SEE THEM DO IT

Everywhere I go and observe, I hear managers who think they can spot “leadership potential” in their people. I assure them, as I assure you, that is a myth. There is one, and only one, way to know if a person can be an effective leader: You see that person win followers and lead them successfully!

When I hear people talk about spotting “leadership potential,” I am reminded of an interview with a grizzled, experienced baseball manager. A reporter was waxing eloquent about a prospect’s potential. It was along these lines: “He can hit like Mays, throw like Clemente, and run like Henderson! He can’t miss! Tell Cooperstown to reserve a spot today!”

The old manager shifted his chaw from one cheek to the other, spit, and said, “Let me tell you something about ‘potential.’ Potential will get you fired.” The history of baseball is full of “can’t-miss” prospects who flamed out. It’s also full of accounts of managers fired because “He wasn’t getting enough out of his players." Why? "There’s so much potential on the club!”

That manager knew something that many in business have forgotten. “Potential” is a myth. Performance is reality. All kinds of people who were brilliant individual contributors have flamed out in leadership. It’s not only about production. Leadership involves vision, understanding of human beings, discipline, drive, maturity, communication, and more.

Leadership Development Proposition 6:

All leaders and managers should view themselves as being in the people-development business

Whether you lead an entire organization or a small group, it is to your advantage to have the highest functioning team possible. And you can’t develop a team without developing the individuals who are members of that team.

I have been baffled more than once by encountering managers who don’t seem to grasp this. I guess they are content with being the chief “doer” in the office, with everyone else playing a supporting role. That certainly isn’t my idea of an excellent team. As a leader I want the best, most highly functioning teammates I can get. The greater they function, the more they can do without me, the more initiative and resourcefulness they can bring to the task, the better, for them and for me!

If you think this way, then you naturally think of people development as normal, as your everyday activity. Every encounter with team members throughout the day becomes an opportunity to teach, train, and coach.

A coaching mentality in a leader means you don’t want to promote “helplessness” as a virtue. You don’t want to encourage dependency upon you. You want your team members to grow in being self-starters and self-reliant problem-solvers.

In Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? (2002), his fascinating memoir of how he led IBM from the brink back to successful growth, Lewis V. Gerstner, Jr. writes of confronting the lack of initiative among his executives:

“Many used hierarchy as a crutch and were reluctant to take personal responsibility for outcomes. Instead of grabbing available resources and authority, they waited for the boss to tell them what to do.”

Gerstner was smart enough to know that he wasn’t that smart. No one is. No executive, leader, or manager is omnicompetent. No one knows enough to get far with helpless followers. He goes on to say (emphasis mine),

“In other words, at the same time I was working to get employees to listen to me, to understand where we needed to go, to follow me there, I needed to get them to stop being followers.”

Every leader needs followers, of course, but not helpless followers, which is Gerstner’s meaning. Whether or not your followers are confirmed in their helplessness is up to you.

Leadership Development Proposition 7:

Leadership development is merely a logical extension and outcome of people development

Leadership development is often treated as an isolated subject. In countless organizations, “leadership training classes” are offered, and those with “potential” are invited to attend (notice: the selection process has already taken place!). While I’m sure the content of those classes includes much true and helpful material, few companies are producing new and better leaders this way.

One of the causes of this failure to develop new and better leaders can be seen right here: Leadership development has been separated from people development. One of my previous propositions states, “You don’t ‘pick’ leaders. You identify them.” If you try to pick leaders out of the masses, you will inevitably pick people who look good, speak well, and are more extroverted in a crowd ─ the “Conventional Model” of a leader. You won’t pick the quieter, less assertive, or introverted ones who may actually have the greatest true leadership potential in the entire organization.

Therefore, there must be an organizational commitment to making growth and learning opportunities available to everyone. In my next article I will explain what kind of structure, philosophy, and process I have in mind. For today, I challenge organizational leaders with this thought: Your people ─ even the ones you may not recognize today ─ have immense potential for growth, great powers of creativity, and untapped contributions they can make to help your organization succeed. To fail to cultivate and discover those hidden gifts is like leaving all the presents wrapped and under the tree after Christmas.

Leadership Development Proposition 8:

Leadership is a meritocracy, with authority given to those who earn it

If I were to put my finger on the single greatest reason for organizational mediocrity, this is it: The greatest cause of mediocrity in organizations is wrong people in leadership. I have observed this through personal experience and as a student and observer of the corporate world at large for years. Most of those “wrong people” in leadership have been picked and put in those positions, usually because of good individual performance apart from proven ability to win and lead followers.

For those who want to promote diversity in leadership, this is the way. It is built on the conviction that all people ─ both sexes, all races, all ethnic backgrounds ─ have been created with equal potential for intelligence, giftedness, strengths, talents, and drive to succeed when granted the opportunity. Effective leaders come in all shapes and sizes, all kinds of temperaments, both genders and different races. If you’ll open people-development opportunities to all your people, then further develop those with demonstrated leadership ability, you’ll find in the end genuine diversity at the top.

What is the alternative to the common leadership development practices? It involves understanding and commitment to some principles, such as those I am stating in my eight propositions. It involves building a structure for the leadership process to take place, perseverance over the long haul to administrate it faithfully, and the determination to properly utilize the people who are ultimately developed.

Most companies make statements along the lines of “our people are our most valuable resource.” What they actually do shows whether or not they really believe it. Li


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