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Design to Develop Leaders

How to ensure that new and better leaders emerge in your company (Real-World Leadership Development, Part 3)

Li #220 Design to Develop Leaders
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IN TWO PREVIOUS ARTICLES I have laid out 8 Leadership Development Propositions which I have taught and practiced for over 35 years. This subject should not be a concern only for top executives of large companies. Leaders of groups of any size can benefit from knowing and applying these principles.

A 3-D look at leadership development

Proposition 4 states, “Since leaders are ‘identified,’ you must create an arena for them to reveal themselves.” In other words, a setting for the process to occur. What does such an arena look like, and what is the process?

There are three metaphors that function like lenses to provide a 3-D look at leadership development. None is sufficient in itself, but together they describe how new and better leaders can be developed for your organization. I call them the “3 A’s”:

  • The Architectural Metaphor

Leadership development is like designing a building. It requires a plan and a structure.

  • The Agricultural Metaphor

Leadership development is like farming or gardening. It requires a process, diligence, and patience.

  • The Anatomical Metaphor

Leadership development results in a group that resembles a body. There are many parts which do not have the same abilities or functions. Together they form a unity greater than the parts.

The Architectural View

No one accidentally builds a building. It is intentional, logical, and systematic. Developing people, with the ultimate result of developing leaders, is the same. Organizations do not develop new and better leaders without the conscious intention to do so.

Commitment and involvement from the top of the organization is a must. I have too often seen lip service from a top leader without personal commitment. They talk about the importance of developing leaders, appoint someone else to do it, and then turn their attention elsewhere. This is not to say the top leader must personally lead the effort, but he or she does have to demonstrate sincere interest and, ideally, participate in the process. If they don’t, leadership development remains an anemic thing the company is doing on the side.

Assuming there is organizational commitment, what kind of structure is required? Keep in mind that while the principles are universal and timeless, they are flexible enough be adapted to a particular organization’s size and resources. To explain, I’ll introduce the second “lens” and show how the first two metaphors work together.

The Agricultural View

When you have the process completely up to speed, the structure will have three main tiers. You generally must build up gradually, especially when beginning from scratch. The speed of that development depends on several factors. Even at the beginning with only Tier 1, the leader must anticipate implementing the others when possible.

Imagine three progressively smaller filters or funnels (the flow is downward). Since leaders will not be “picked” but identified, this structure will provide the arena for them to be revealed. And more, this will provide an ongoing flow of growing people. Everyone is not going to become a leader, no matter how much they grow as an individual. But the personal and professional growth of members of the organization across the board, including individual contributors, benefits the whole.

The flow looks like this:

Tier 1: Growth opportunities

These classes are open to everyone, and all interested persons are encouraged to participate. Content is designed to build the individual’s effectiveness in their sphere of work and present fundamentals of leadership. The company’s unique leadership competencies, core values, and other distinctives are emphasized.

Teachability is the chief quality you are looking for ─ eagerness to learn and grow, along with signs the person understands and embraces the basic demands of leadership and the core values.

My own practice after a cycle or two of the Tier 1 classes is to invite the most eager participants to assist me in leading the next cycle. I get to hear them teach things they have learned and watch how they interact as the leader of a group.

Tier 2: Service opportunities

For those who choose to continue, this stage emphasizes service and application. Here you add more challenging assignments and leading and managing tools.

In Tier2 I break up the class into study and work teams with specific assignments, having them rotate as leaders of the team. This is where many quieter, more introverted people begin to flex their muscles and reveal the leadership potential that was not apparent in the crowd.

Since “the heart of leadership is serving,” you are watching to learn which ones rise beyond selfish and immature concerns and seek what is in the best interests of others and of the team. You’ll also see early indications of their ability to win followers.

Tier 3: Training opportunities

Here is where you finally begin selecting leaders for real. Having identified those who “get it” and are able to win followers, you invite them apart for more intensive training as they assume weightier responsibilities.

One-on-one executive coaching is offered to enable them to grow in their self-understanding and self-awareness, and to help them address any potential weaknesses that might hinder their progress.

The results of developing an individual are unpredictable. Think about farming: There has never been a corn farmer who could pick up a corn kernel and say, “This seed will grow a great corn stalk.” The individual seed is unpredictable. But if the farmer will plow his field, fertilize, throw out a lot of seed, water, weed, and guard against pests, he can say, “Other things being equal, I will have a successful corn crop.” People are the same.

The Agricultural view cautions you against making predictions about people’s “potential.” Having been in the people-development business for over 35 years, I can tell you that you cannot know what people will become. I have had great disappointments when promising people hit limitations and stumbled as leaders, and I have had delightful surprises when people proved to have leadership abilities I never dreamed of. You can try to predict what people will become, but your batting average will be poor. After years of doing this, yes, you can develop a better predicting ability. Still, I encourage the wisdom of waiting patiently for the outcome.

Patience is absolutely necessary, because it can take 3-5 years before this process is mature and fully functioning. But it’s worth it! I can promise you that if you build the structure and commit to the process, you will have a crop of growing people, some of whom will become successful and influential leaders.

The Anatomical View

Since leaders will be “identified” through demonstrating their character and ability, you will also find yourself delightfully surprised by observing potentials you couldn’t have guessed up front. Those unforeseen strengths then become the springboard for assignments and for creative development for the entire organization. This is the kind of thing Jim Collins is indicating in Good to Great when he says of the best companies, “they first got the right people on the bus … and then figured out where to drive it.” You’ll discover the same: Commit yourself to developing people, and they’ll surprise you by turning into assets that expand your organizational capabilities. You’ll find your vision for what to do and where to go with them will grow at the same time.

Assuming you are applying the process, what are the qualities you should look for when “identifying” those with leadership ability? That we’ll handle next week. Li


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