Developing Leaders? Burn the Classroom!20.Aug.2012
You can’t learn to swim in a classroom. A PowerPoint presentation won’t teach you how to ride a bicycle. Getting “coached” on how to bake an apple pie won’t complete the learning, says Gurprriet Siingh in YSC’s Mumbai Office.
Leadership is a practice.
It is something you do. It is something that is experienced and felt by others. Leadership is an expression of your life-experiences and the values and beliefs you have developed as a result of those experiences.
Really think those can be developed in a classroom? Think again!
Leadership workshops do serve a purpose by helping build perspective, creating a greater knowledge and understanding and by introducing a concept. However, many organisations waste time, energy and money by sending cohort after cohort of leaders through workshops which do not build skill. They also often lack the follow through in terms of continuous ‘on the job’ development which is needed when building great leaders.
So how do you do it? How do you build great leaders?
Skill-building has always been and will remain an outcome of practice and experience. Create experiences and situations that test their skills and raise the difficulty levels of the challenge from time to time. Some ways you can do this are:
- Job rotation: This does not mean some namby pamby name change for the role or a 1 degree change that the individual will hardly notice. A job change that challenges skills that have not yet been tested is the most appropriate way to do this.
- Location change: Managing a team in NY is very different from managing a team in Cincinnati. As is the difference between leading people in Northern India versus Southern India, or Shanghai versus Singapore.
- Situation change: Running a sales outfit in an area where you have leading market-share is very different from running a sales outfit in a region where you are the slacker.
- People Challenge: Get them to lead a team of youngsters, folks who’re older than them, mixed skill groups, cross-functional teams. Each one will develop new people management skills.
- Context change: Manage a start-up business/project. Lead a turnaround situation. Lead a high growth, rapid ramp-up situation. New territory expansion. New product category.
- Business change: Manage a not-for-profit.
Through each assignment, monitor how the individuals are handling people, decisions, analytics, relationships, intuition, growth, resolution. Elicit a partnership with them and observe the values and beliefs that seem to be driving their choices and behaviours. Help them to develop high levels of self-awareness, reflection, critical thinking and insight. These are long-term differentiators of great leaders.
However, don’t molly-coddle. Allow failures. Ensure that challenges they face are real and steep. Dealing with failures will build both, resilience (ability to learn and bounce-back) and humility.
Appoint mentors/coaches who will guide them through the transitions, so that you enable a support structure that fosters success (instead of a sink or swim). The benefits of Transition Coaching are manifold and derisk leadership transitions for organizations.
Not only will the above process develop leaders, it will also bring a new pair of eyes to a variety of roles and highlight things that will benefit the organization as whole. It will raise the levels of engagement and challenge at work thereby increasing retention. Above all, it will derisk the leadership pipeline and succession significantly.
Don’t delay. Pick a cohort, even if it is just four people. Get the sign-off from the CEO, and put this into action. At least two of the four will make it through the transition and emerge as great leaders.