By Lisa Sterling
Developing effective and empowered leaders is one of the most important things an organization can do to ensure the successful accomplishment of its goals, whatever they may be.
That’s because leadership influences nearly all aspects of a business, such as the selection, engagement, and retention of talent, customer loyalty, and overall brand perception and influence. Yet despite its importance, many companies seem to struggle with leadership development.
Perhaps the biggest reason for that struggle is the new and varied set of behaviors and skills today’s leaders need to be effective. One of the worst mistakes any organization can make is to base its promotions or leadership decisions on tenure. Simply being a long-serving veteran of the organization or a star individual performer does not automatically make someone a candidate for leadership or demonstrate they have the necessary commitment to the role, the team or the company.
In today’s ever-evolving and increasingly complex environment, effective leaders must be able to guide staff through moments of uncertainty, be a trusted source for honest and open communication, and encourage and inspire their teams to take risks without fear of failure. As Deloitte notes in its 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report, leadership is increasingly about the challenges leaders face rather than the “art” of leadership. And those challenges are many.
Today’s workplace can have up to four generations of workers, all of whom have different expectations about what it takes to keep them truly engaged. Millennial workers, for example, expect an environment of constant development, mentoring and stretch assignments. If your organization doesn’t offer that, another will, and much of your younger generation of workers will be enticed to leave. And as organizations replace their old hierarchical structures with a more linear and inclusive management model, leaders can no longer simply issue instructions and expect them to be followed. Leaders must now be able to inspire a diverse set of employees, often located in multiple locations, with networks of teams made up of a mix of full-time, temporary and “gig” workers.
The Deloitte report highlights another challenge: The leadership pipeline in many companies is too top-heavy, preventing newer people from getting adequate opportunities for on-the-job learning and development. That’s why identifying and assessing potential leaders early in their careers should be an ongoing priority for organizations. While many leadership skills can be taught and strengthened over time with training, not every employee will have the inherent qualities, behaviors, and traits that will make them a truly effective leader. So even as you invest in the development of all your employees, you need to pay special attention to providing development training to the natural-born leaders you find.
Investing in the leadership development of these individuals doesn’t just help them. One of the biggest factors in employee disengagement is a lack of confidence in the abilities of their leaders. Building up the skills and talents of natural-born leaders benefits your entire organization by ensuring a strong leadership pipeline, enhancing the engagement and empowerment of other employees and producing improved bottom-line results.
Here are some simple strategies you can use to help cultivate a culture of effective leadership within your organization:
- Provide immediate and continuous feedback. Make sure your teams understand the importance of open and honest communication. Focus on further enhancing the strengths of your people. While people need to be able to speak freely, you need feedback that is actionable and will drive the most positive outcomes.
- Be flexible and open-minded. Encouraging employees to exercise creativity and allowing them a degree of freedom to approach and handle an issue in their own manner can help boost their confidence, trust and motivation. By giving an employee some leeway to do a job as they see fit, you both will discover what that person is truly capable of.
- Challenge your teams. Effective leaders know that developing a team of strong workers and facilitating a culture of empowerment requires them to continuously challenge people and make them step outside their comfort zones. Creating a culture where people can take risks and fail fast enables leaders to be more progressive in their thinking and actions.
- Show your appreciation. Rewards and recognition mean a lot to your employees as they demonstrate that you value their contributions and successes. Even a simple “thank you” for a job well done or a shout out at the next team meeting can go a long way to boosting confidence and engagement.
- Hold yourself accountable. Get rid of your annual employee engagement survey and replace it with one taken at least every quarter, and report regularly on what you’re doing to respond to key priorities raised in them.
Whatever steps you take, remember that how you treat your employees, including how you identify and develop your leaders of the future, will have a big impact on how successful your organization will be.