About 24 months ago we had the proverbial wake up call with respect to the “leadership gap” we would soon be facing as an organization. Much like many other companies, we simply turned around one day, looked a little closer at the demographics of our workforce, and realized our bench was anything but deep and talented. Our epiphany launched a multi-year project to stand up an enterprise wide, comprehensive leadership development and succession plan. And stand one up we did. By fall of 2012 we had in place a program that was rich in process, assessment and selection rigor, and highly developmental with a nice blend of classroom and experiential learning. It provided long-term clarity to the enterprise for career planning and advancement, and we were off to the races. Or were we?
With almost a year under our belt and approximately 45 associates in our two-tiered program we began to hear varying degrees of satisfaction from our “high potential” associates. While each was following the same protocol from an Individual Development Plan perspective, what we discovered was the level of personal involvement from their sponsor was highly variable. In the worst case we were practicing the “set it and forget it model” where the development of the associate was following the process as written, however there was little to no additional involvement of their sponsor other then the planned quarterly review meetings. In the best case, the high-end senior leaders were, to use the words of John Maxwell, “pouring themselves into the lives” of our future leaders. To bridge that gap, we looked beyond the processes and program and identified a few other Values Based Leadership competencies that we believe must be present as it relates to the development of others:
- Find Your Voice – As with all our work we believe the leader has to go first. And while it may seem contrary, the same holds true in the case of developing others; the leader’s (mentor’s) work starts within. It is without question that you can’t be inspiring (breath life into another) unless you yourself are inspired. Stephen Covey tells us in The 8th Habit: “When you engage in work that taps your talent and fuels your passion – that rises out of a great need that you feel drawn to, therein lies your voice, your calling, your soul’s code.”
- Believe in Other People – Recently we wrote a blog titled Believing is Seeing and talked about how we look at the world (and the people in it) differently after we embraced our core belief in the extraordinary potential of all human beings. This in and of itself creates a climate and culture of growth and development.
- Model the Way – We are all familiar with the quote “your actions speak so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” There are few occasions where this philosophy is more important than the development of future leaders. In Kouzes and Posner’s legendary book The Leadership Challenge step one in their Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership is “Model the Way”. They go on to say: “Titles are granted but it is your behavior that earns you respect. Leading by example is more effective than leading by command.” There is no better way to show others the importance of what you are teaching them then by doing it yourself and setting the example.
- Cultivate and Nurture Relationships – In Mentoring 101, John Maxwell wrote, “The best leaders understand the important role of relationships when it comes to success. And if personal relationships aren’t there first, people won’t travel far in mentor / mentee relationships.” The idea of pouring yourself into someone’s life extends far beyond remembering birthdays and your formal meeting time together. Relationships that are deep and meaningful activate trust, open lines of communication and transparency; all of which are essential in helping those around you reach their full potential.
- Practice Tough Love – We often write of Aristotle’s Golden Mean, otherwise known as that “just right place” between the extremes. There is such a fine line between ripe and rotten when it comes to the development of others. In her blog Tough on Results, Gentle on People, Karin Hurt does an exceptional job navigating the need to “set high standards and serve your people.” Clarity can evaporate so quickly when good performance is not celebrated and / or poor performance is not addressed head on.
- Be a Witness – We believe experiential learning combined with stretch assignments activate development. And development is amplified when we actually witness both good and bad performance and engage in a developmental conversation in the moment. Witnessing requires you to be there, which takes us back to the relationship and time spent together beyond the meeting room and coffee bar. And back to that investment of time and attention in our people, is there really anything more important?
My guess is many organizations have initiated grand leadership development and succession plans with smart programming and detailed processes. The advancement paths are most assuredly clear, selection criteria well thought out, and “high tech” or use of technology well embedded. The question is, are we being equally as deliberate with the “high touch” or human aspects of our programs where deep and meaningful relationships are the foundation of all our work and we truly are pouring ourselves into the lives of our associates? My fear is without this approach, the “set it and forget it” mind-set will land us right back where we found ourselves a few years back, having a pretty empty bench.