Leadership development is one of those goals I think every business owner writes down at some point. Leaders leading leaders. The dream of having leaders in every position is in a way, a utopian business model. A unicorn. There are companies that excel at this. The oft mentioned Chick-fil-a comes to mind. Except as businesses generally go, we aren’t hiring leaders at every position and we aren’t developing leaders either. I say “we” because I’ve been there.
At one point in my business, I changed our slogan to “A leadership company that sells real estate.” Everything we did involved some aspect of leadership philosophy or training. However, when it came time to hire I didn’t hire anyone with a leadership mindset. After they were hired I certainly didn’t do anything to develop leadership within them. Every new hire had a one-day values exercise that we did with some John Maxwell materials, but that was it. As the leader not only did I not impart leadership skills to my employees but they really didn’t see a leader leading either. Commanding or managing maybe, but not leading.
Why Leadership Development Isn’t Happening
My guess is that if you’re a business owner, some of that resonates with you. However, if you’re an employee, all of this resonates with you. Leaders at most organizations are positional and aren’t developing leaders around them. As easy as it is to blame the people who are over you it’s often not their fault. When a business is started it starts off in survival mode. Every “system” is often rarely defined. The business main goal is to survive. Mission, vision, values, systems and the HR department usually form after some success has been had or from necessity. Leadership development then becomes a lofty goal but is never really baked into the DNA of a company.
Effective Leadership Development Is Systemic
Leadership development might be a very thoughtful and visionary desire, but it’s often tacked on to a “what we do” statement and rarely a “who we are.” Typically at best it’s part of a training exercise that usually conveys vague, non-actionable information. For leadership development to become a part of a “who we are” at a business it has to be systemic and cultural. Often the very thing that makes things more mechanical, like a system or a script, is the thing that frees up a person to really become a servant leader. A system gives a leader a set of rules and tasks to follow thus freeing their mind from wondering what to do and when. When the entire company is working the system and exuding leadership, leadership development occurs. The intentionality comes from the top and reverberates down.
Leadership Development Happens When Others See You Leading
One reason companies aren’t seeing leadership development happen is because they aren’t seeing leaders lead. Often a business can get so busy “doing” that they don’t get a chance to be proactive. They spend more time “doing” instead of taking the even longer path of leading. Make no mistake, leadership requires a proactive mindset. Developing leaders around you often means withholding easy answers and forcing your team to come up with answers on their own. This takes time! It’s much easier for a person with authority to just make a decision. However, decisions are often great opportunities for team members to exercise leadership abilities.
In addition, sometimes leaders aren’t developing because they aren’t seeing leaders lead. That’s not a repeat or a mistake. The best leadership training I’ve ever received was when I’ve been serving others. I’ve learned more about leadership from watching others attempt to lead me. Typically in life, I learn from failure but in a role under someone else’s authority, I’ve learned leadership lessons from both excellent and poor leaders.
In some organizations, this looks like having leadership sherpas or guides. As new team members join the organization, they are teamed up with a guide to company and decision making. The guide isn’t there to evaluate the team member’s job performance. The sherpa is there to guide the team member’s leadership development. In other organizations, they’ve outsourced this to leadership coaches.
For Leadership Development To Happen, Your Team Has To Lead
For a while, the word “empower” was a buzz word. While the buzz has died down the need to empower your team members to act and make decisions for your company hasn’t gone away. If you really want to see leaders develop in your organization you have to give your team members space to make decisions and influence outcomes. Give your team an opportunity to own the wins and learn from the failures. Let them see you support them as a true servant leader and coach them to success.
I write a bit about having a missional business and I honestly believe that missional businesses are ones that are intentional about developing leaders on their team. The best companies at leadership development are the ones that make the process systemic and part of their culture. The best leadership lessons are learned by observing and doing, not just one or the other.