Leadership is a word often misused and misunderstood. Many of us know what it means, and can spot it when we see it, but there is an element of intangibility that comes with what makes people great at leadership, or not.
Some believe leaders are born not made, and there is much psychological and neurological evidence to support this.
On the other hand, Vince Lombardi claimed the opposite, and this was in reference to the fact that he believed anyone can achieve if they work hard enough.
But do great leaders stem from a mix of both?
Here Jim Thomas, Managing Director of PDW group discusses how to unearth great leadership potential in your business.
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HowDo Businesses Properly Nurture Their Leaders, Both Present and Future?
Nurturing an environment that fosters leadership can be a big challenge, particularly for owners managing a business where their focus is typically on the day job. Figuring out how they grow sustainably, attract, retain and nurture top talent, all whilst ensuring the ongoing succession at senior level can be a huge conundrum.
Ironic in some ways, the obvious solution starts with setting the right example. There are many businesses that want to have good leaders for the future but are not being effectively lead in the present to bring this about!
Here are the top three critical principles great leaders do well:
- They set clear goals and paint a compelling picture of the future (often called the ‘vision). If properly communicated, this means that everyone in the business knows where the business is headed, why and how, and is motivated to be involved in that journey.
- They properly resource the business. In order for a business to achieve its short or long-term goals, it needs to have the right people in the right roles, the right processes and tools, and the right investment. Great leaders are responsible for understanding what is required here and providing within reason the resources to achieve the aims of the business.
- They ‘enable’ far more than they ‘disable’. This is about day to day behaviour and it covers many areas but includes key values such as being driven and humble, having integrity and building trust amongst the workforce, as well as key competencies such as all aspects of communication, empowerment, planning and decision making.
There is also much recent research around the importance of emotional intelligence as a key attribute of successful leaders, and their ability to flex effectively for the person and the situation at any time.
So, if your business seems to have a number of leaders who demonstrate the above functions and behaviours, then you will likely be in a good place. A business like this will probably already have its ‘radar on’ to develop potential in its people.
No leader is around forever though, so always being on the lookout for potential is a key leadership attribute in itself.
A truly great leader is committed to finding people better than themselves, and Jim Collins highlighted this in his iconic book, Good to Great.
How to Spot Leadership Cracks in Your Business
The issue for many SMEs and owner managed businesses is that leadership is often not consciously thought about. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the one or two people who started the businessor who run it now are not good leaders – it just means that it may result in working too much IN the business, as opposed to ON the business.
Too much working in the here and now, and not enough focus on the future.A lack of awareness of just how much impact the behaviour of the senior people has on those around them.
And finding someone better than the current leaders? That’s often not even on the radar at all, and the thought of that being the case is quite a scary thought and is often just ‘swept under the carpet and forgotten.
Solet’s assume that you work in a business that is probably part of the majority as described above. Leadership will be ‘there’ in some form, but there will probably be limited focus on it for the future.
The first loophole is to define what you want from your leaders. In other words, what does great leadership function and behaviour look and feel like at XYZ Company? Like anything in life, if you are clear on what you are looking for, this will make it much easier to find.
Your current leaders have a job to do as well here. They must be honest with themselves about how much they are walking the walk, and be humble enough to admit (openly) that there are gaps in their behaviours. After all, they are most likely the ones who will need to lead the business through whatever cultural shift is needed.
A greater focus on leadership capability and fitness for the future is like any change, not necessarily easy to do. Once you have clear definitions of leadership attributes, you can begin assessing people against them, and actively looking for them.
Whilst some use formal assessment days, others use a well-honed performance management process which results in potential being spotted in individuals and across the business. Others use a more informal and unofficial approach or just keeping their eyes and ears to the ground.
Whatever your method, the key point is that you must be able to measure and establish wherever possible how well individuals perform against your criteria and demonstrate the behaviours you ideally want.
If it’s potential you are looking for then this needs to be taken into account, as this is more subtle. People will not be ‘fully formed’ and you’ll have to dig beneath the surface. You may have to take some risks, put people under pressure, and maybe give them a project to lead when you’re not convinced they will succeed, and so on.
You’ll need to have some proper mechanisms for developing them, of pulling out their real potential. There are several avenues for this including job shadowing and secondments, formal mentoring, workshop solutions and having 1:1 coaching.
Whatever approaches you use to define, assess and develop, consider the following suggestions…
- The more robust you make your definitions, the more likely you are to find what you are looking for and the more likely they are to stand up to scrutiny
- The process and mechanisms for measurement, identification and selection of potential must be universally understood. 360-degree feedback is a very robust way of doing this for leaders, if properly managed.
- It must be real, a meritocracy and not just a front of smoke and mirrors
- Development must be personalised and targeted, and the impacts properly measured and assessed
- When it comes to developing behaviours, people need practise and feedback in a way that feels real. Theory alone rarely cuts it.
In summary, there is no ‘one size fits all’ in terms of what to look for, but there are definite traits that set great potential leaders apart from all others. So if you want to ‘back the right horses’ and invest effectively for the future, make sure you keep these traits in mind:
- Are team players but can equally stand alone, and have the confidence to be in the minority
- Have high self-belief and deal well with pressure
- Are excellent and considerate communicators
- Enjoy talking to people and seem comfortable about talking about their feelings
- Are curious, and seem far more interested in talking to others than talking about themselves
- Typically raise other people’s status by going out of their way to praise and thank them, rather than raising their own status by putting others down
- People who seem OK with taking slightly more of their share of the blame when things go wrong, and slightly less of their share of the fame when things go well in favour of congratulating others
- Don’t have an overly prominent ego, and are generally humble
- Are driven and committed to the company and the people
So if you find people in your organisation with a number of the above traits, if properly nurtured, they could be the next great leader of your business, and fundamental to securing the next ten or twenty years of successes.
About Jim Thomas, Managing Director Of PDW
Jim is a co-founder and co-owner of PDW Group, a Nottingham-based business that works to transform the behaviour and performance of people, teams and organisations. Prior to forming PDW group, Jim had 13 years of major brand corporate experience in senior management roles.