Why Isn't Your Organization Training New Leaders?

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  • April 26, 2018

There’s almost universal agreement that training new leaders is one of the biggest challenges facing organizations today. And if your organization is like most, chances are its efforts to equip new leaders for success are falling a bit flat. In fact, 86 percent of respondents to one Deloitte survey called leadership development either “urgent” or “important.” However, just 13 percent said their organizations does an “excellent” job of developing leaders at all levels. Leaders set the tone for employee experience within your organization. In doing so, they play a major role in employee retention, engagement, productivity, and innovation. So, why isn’t your organization doing a better job of training new leaders?

Three Ways Leadership Development Impacts Your Company

Harvard researchers have found that most managers don’t receive leadership training until they’ve held a leadership role for nearly a decade. That means many organizations aren’t merely unintentional about leadership development—they’re outright neglectful. The perils of ineffective leadership development can’t be understated. Below, we’ll explore how leaders impact three key areas: innovation, cohesion and inclusion, and company culture.

1. Leaders Set the Tone for Innovation

More than 70 percent of senior executives in a McKinsey & Co. survey said innovation would be a top driver of company growth in future years. However, 65 percent also said they were "somewhat," "a little," or "not at all" confident about their organization’s ability to stimulate innovation. Where’s the disconnect? Innovation doesn’t always occur naturally. Leadership plays a big role in cultivating it—or stifling it. Without teaching team leaders to give “permission” for others to suggest new ideas or strategies, human performance expert Laura Stack says, team members could be deterred from taking initiative on innovation by fear of punishment for failure or insubordination. “Initiative allows for grassroots innovation at all levels, which is a necessity for business survival today, since it increases flexibility and agility,” Stack writes in her book Faster Together. Do your leaders have the skills to inspire innovation?

2. Leaders Build Cohesion and Engagement by Building Consensus

A whopping 70 percent of U.S. employees aren’t reaching their full potential, or are actively disengaged from their jobs, Gallup reports. The costs are steep, too. Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost U.S. businesses up to $550 billion per year in lost productivity. What's one of the leading reasons? Managers failing to support, engage, or empower staff. Consensus-building leadership can help by building inclusion and cohesion. Fostering inclusion, say social justice and diversity expert Howard J. Ross and behavioral scientist Jon Robert Tartaglione, requires a willingness for managers to better understand others—and themselves. It also requires “clear systems and structures” that allow all to participate. “A big part of a healthy, inclusive environment is conscious allyship. Allies work to understand and support people in groups outside of themselves. This is particularly important for the well-being of people who are in nondominant groups,” Ross and Tartaglione write in Our Search for Belonging. Do your leaders have tools and training to promote engagement through cohesiveness and inclusion?

3. Leaders Determine Your Company Culture

Research shows that managers are the x-factor in creating high-performance company cultures. They accomplish that by establishing a clear vision, clearly defining employee responsibilities, building trust, and encouraging team members to bring their all to their roles. And if your new leaders aren’t hitting all those marks, it’s probably not their fault. Leading expert and researcher William A. Gentry refers to the “raw deal” new managers receive. They’re often promoted because of their technical skills as individual contributors—but those skills don’t translate to leadership roles. In Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For, Gentry ponders what would happen if new leaders were given tools to flip their script. As in a play, Gentry argues that everyone has a life script that they follow. These scripts influence our actions, expectations, thoughts, and relationships. However, the script isn’t the same for individual contributors and leaders. That’s why it’s critical to help new leaders “flip their script” when it comes to their mindset, skillset, relationships, attitudes, perspective, and focus. “Imagine if all the managers in your organization flipped their scripts. How would you better serve your customers? How would people in your organization be happier and more engaged in their work? What would the culture of your organization look like?” Gentry asks.

Effective leadership requires “soft skills,” which are sometimes referred to as “people skills.” Your new leaders need to learn how to spur innovation, promote inclusion and cohesion, and build a great company culture. As Gentry explains, if you don’t empower new managers with tools and resources to do these three things, you’re giving them a raw deal.

Three Strategies to Advance Intentional Leadership Development

Would you believe that almost 40 percent of new executives fail within 18 months? It’s true, as the Center for Creative Leadership reports. And it gets worse. Even more new executives underperform during that time span, and failure of leadership training can also have a cascading effect throughout your organization. A cost of poor leadership calculator offered by corporate research firm Development Dimension International (DDI) estimates that poor leaders can cost organizations more than $126,000 per year in reduced productivity and higher turnover rates. Below, we’ll explore three strategies that can play important roles in strategies to equip new leaders for success.

1. Make Leadership Development a Focus of Your Organization

How do you decide which team members are worthy of leadership development? If the previously-cited statistics on underperforming new leaders are any indication, many organizations need to rethink their criteria. In fact, expert on optimizing human potential Michael C. Bush argues that we should just throw criteria for “choosing” new leaders out the window. In A Great Place to Work For All, Bush, the CEO of Great Place to Work, the organization behind Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work list, writes that leaders’ path to success is quickly evolving in today’s business climate. “Changes happen faster, information moves rapidly with more transparency than ever before, and technology gives any customer or employee the power to be heard worldwide in an instant. These are the unique challenges of our times. And the best leaders are responding.” Here are a few strategies to build an organization with leadership opportunities for all:

  • Empowerment. If all employees aren’t empowered to reach new heights in terms of projects they undertake, skills they develop, and inspiration they feel, Bush argues, organizations are missing out. Implementing values of the New Leadership Paradigm can help. Principles like egalitarianism, transparency, leadership exercised at all levels, diversity and inclusion, and leaders focused on service can help build leadership skills among employees of all levels.
  • Foundation of Trust. Bush notes that trust is a “universal requirement for positive interactions.” And building a foundation of trust requires credibility, respect, and fairness. “Employees trust leaders when they see them as credible, as respectful, and as fair,” Bush writes.

The current business environment is rapidly changing. The key to success is maximizing the human potential of all team members—not a select few chosen for leadership positions.

2. Equip New leaders for Success

Given that just 19 percent of new managers were happy with the people-management training they received in a CEB study, there’s a lot of work to be done in equipping new leaders for success. Legendary leadership development expert and researcher Henry Mintzberg explains the challenge: leadership is too broad of a concept for the classroom. In his classic book Managing, Mintzberg writes, “Most management education and much management development is organized around the business functions.” However, successful instruction should focus more on “the importance of reflection, worldliness, collaboration, and action.” HR directors and other organizational leaders can help:

  • Soft Skills. H.R directors can coach new managers as they develop the “soft skills” they need to manage people, the Society for Human Resources Management notes. This can entail coaching managers as they develop new communication and problem-solving skills through regular check-in meetings.
  • Formal Mentorship Programs. Mentors can speed up the development of new leaders. They can offer strategies to balance new responsibilities, tips for maintaining work-life balance, and other valuable insights learned from years of valuable experience,

Few new leaders begin with all the tools they’ll need for success. By engaging them along the way, HR teams and organizational leaders can guide the learning process.

3. Frame Leadership Development as an Ongoing Journey

Again, most people aren’t born with leadership skills—they learn them. That means businesses can put new managers on a path to success by offering leadership development resources to both new and existing leaders. A training program offered by the Ken Blanchard Companies for first-time managers, for example, can help bridge the immediate skills gap for transitioning managers. Providing management teams with books on effective leadership strategies and styles can also be a great continuing education tool for businesses. And micro-learning platforms that provide on-demand access to short, online training sessions can also be a great way to develop new skills.

By creating a culture of intentional leadership development, you’ll help ease the transition from individual contributor to leader. You’ll also set new leaders up for success by establishing a framework for continuing education and leadership development going forward.

The Final Word on Intentional Leadership Development

New leaders are the foundation of business sustainability. Don’t leave their success up to chance. Being intentional about leadership development means supporting innovation, inclusiveness, and great company culture. And the best way to accomplish that is through a multi-pronged approach that permeates your entire organization. Creating leadership opportunities for all, bridging “soft skills” gaps, and defining leadership development as a continuous journey will help ensure the success of new leaders—and your organization as a whole.

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