What drives the identification, development and promotion of leaders in your organization? Is it actually the person’s ability to lead? For many organizations, the leadership qualities of a candidate for promotion or hiring may be a small part of the consideration, but the real focus is the competence of the leader in whatever technical area is represented. This is especially true in middle level positions as individual’s rise to higher levels of leadership responsibility, in many cases because they are the best technically at what they do.
Author and consultant Mike Myatt, in a recent post on Forbes, argues,
We live in a time that has moved well beyond competency driven models, yet organizations still primarily use competency-based interviews, competency-based development, competency-based performance reviews, and competency-based rewards as their framework for doing business. It remains the best practices mentality that rules the day, when we’re long overdue for a shift to next practices.
I have also been railing about this practice for a long time, but in reality, what are we asking organizations to do? Hasn’t the expert earned the right for the higher position by working harder and having greater competency than those are her? Is there anybody else who can better advise the troops and ensure the work is done well than the person who is the best at it?
Here’s the problem. It’s not that organizations promote the highly competent to leadership positions, it’s that they don’t develop these folks as their career is coming together to be managers and leaders. As an MBA professor I can say that there are some skills and ideas of which a person can be made aware in a classroom setting, but the way to develop a leader is to give them space to USE these ideas to create their own leadership competency. You can’t become a great sales person without selling anything, and you can’t become a great leader without leading.
Developing leadership is a long-term proposition and should begin earlier in a person’s career than most organizations start to push for it. Classes, workshops and real hands-on opportunities can be offered early in the career of a competent employee. This doesn’t have to be expensive as some of the greatest learning comes from being mentored and having the opportunity when it arises to develop leadership skills. A small amount of intent on developing leadership earlier in the careers of your employees can have tremendous pay offs in the end.
Given the nature of today’s economy, the apparent permanence of uncertainty regarding the “fiscal cliff,” and the ongoing wringing of hands and pessimism spewing from our television sets and other media, one might think that today’s business leaders are on their last legs. Several articles I’ve read lately have asked whether the age of the entrepreneur is over and have speculated that America’s prosperity may have run its course.
Download CEO New Year’s Resolutions 2013
Don’t mention any of that if you speak to those who responded to this year’s “CEO New Year’s Resolutions Report” which I author and publish with Northwood University. As I have done for the last few years, I interviewed 50 CEOs of various companies to find out what they were resolving for 2013. These CEOs represent profit and non-profit companies of all sizes with a range of industries and experience.
This year’s CEOs are ready for growth and risk-taking again. You can tell that lessons have been learned as the tone overall is one of prudence, but optimism. These leaders are well aware of the uncertainty in the marketplace but are also aware that they are the ones who will make their own future. They are focusing their strategy, developing their people and giving back to the community.
Take a look at this year’s report and let me know what you think. Feel free to pass it along to others as well. And if you are a CEO and would like to be on the list for next year you can send me a note and I’ll follow up with you then.
The electorate has spoken and since today most conversations will be about yesterday’s elections, I’m going to go there too if only briefly.
I’m a “fiscal conservative” if you would and I’m not a fan of big government. There are certain liberal perspectives that make no sense to me and others that I simply think belong in the hands of the people rather than the politicians. I voted for Romney/Ryan because, in the balance, I felt the direction they espoused was a more responsible one to government than those of Obama/Biden.
BUT, yesterday the American people chose Obama for another four years. And I’m with Romney on this as well…let’s pray that he’s a successful President in his second term.
Notice that I didn’t say I’m a Republican, because there’s little about that party to be proud of either. The Republican’s screwed this one up and didn’t get it until it was too late. The policy of obstruction announced by Boehner four years ago, and the practice of opposing anything that might be seen as supporting the Obama administration did nothing to break the status quo even when the status quo is painful for millions of Americans.
Partisanship is for elections and there it serves a purpose. It delineates the field and simplifies issues. But governance is a collaborative effort. It requires compromise and a commitment to the bigger picture. True leadership requires working together for common outcomes. That shouldn’t be seen as a sell-out…that’s the act of getting things done.
Perhaps the game changes this time because this will be President Obama’s final term. Neither he nor the Republicans have the same need for dogmatism. It seems that both sides of the aisle made the first four years of Obama’s administration all about whether there would be a second four years. Well, now there is. Perhaps the next four years can be about the American people.
The devastation of Hurricane Sandy over this last week is nearly immeasurable. Having just seen some of the post-storm photos of areas throughout New York, Connecticut and New Jersey are not only beyond description, they represent only a small fraction of the challenge that faces the area now as the clean-up and rebuilding begins.
While these are indescribable tragedies, these are also the times when true leaders emerge and stand out from those who are just filling a position. I’m not just talking about the willingness to of people to engage in helping each other, but leaders that inspire others by their actions of optimism, courage and engagement of others.
Take Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, NJ. Regardless of where you stand on his politics or his prior statements, you have to admire his willingness to back up his statements with action. Mayor Booker himself was among those who went out into the streets of Newark to encourage residents to evacuate and for the homeless to come into the shelters. He used the tools available to him, such as Twitter, to communicate actively with his public without all of the steps of hierarchy between him and his constituency.
In many cases, the heroes and leaders in a disaster like this will always go unknown due to the fact that they are focused more on the outcome than the recognition. These are the individuals that not only take care of their neighbors, but inspire those neighbors with their actions to rise above their fear and loss long enough to come to the aid of those even in worse shape.
And this is where leadership and morality again come together. I am currently in a debate with some of my graduate students (God bless ’em) who chose to believe that leadership has no moral component. I can only hope that they are wrong, because in times like these, it’s the morality that will save lives and create an peace where there is only chaos
It is impossible to speak or teach about leadership without using Steven Jobs as an example of many things. There are plenty of retrospectives on Jobs life being published today, on the anniversary of his death, but for me the thing that still stands out for the unique man that he was is his vision.
Visionary and Creator
In this recently released recording of a speech from 1983 given by Steve Jobs at the International Design Conference, you can hear him accurately predict the future of computers and more importantly the use of computers by the common person. In this speech, he essentially talks about the iPhone, computer networking and unbelievably comes very close to describing the current day iPad. By the way, the link above will take you to the full one hour speech rather than the snippet that is most easily found on the internet today. It’s worth listening to the whole thing. (There’s also a moving tribute by Tim Cook today on Apple’s homepage)
The important things for leaders of all stripes to think about is that Jobs was not only visionary. Many leaders have been visionary. But he then put his life work into making his vision a reality. You can say what you want about his style, his ego, his fallibility…all aspects of being a mere mortal. But what he did, and what few of us do, is not only articulate a vision but then refuse to wait for somebody else to invent it. When he talked about the world of the future, he recognized…and intended that…he would take an active role in creating that world.
Too many times we have a vision that represents a desire more than a driving purpose. This is trying to read tea leaves or speculating in a way that we hope things turn out. Leaders who have both the ability to envision the future, and the willingness to make that future happen, are unique and valuable indeed.
In the past few decades, organizations have attempted to break some of the diversity barriers to advancement by creating affinity groups or purposely placing a large number of demographically similar employees with a more senior mentor to help them navigate the traditional corporate advancement ladder. While several researchers have found that the social cohesion between demographically similar junior and senior employees helps organizations retain young and high potential professionals, researcher Katherine Milkman from Wharton recently discovered a downside: In service organizations where promotion is necessary to stay employed (academics, law, consulting, etc), work groups that contained many same gender or same minority group members tended to have employees leave in greater numbers because they felt that the competition reduced their chances for employment.
Internal Competition May Sabotage Your Efforts
While these organizations have no explicit quotas, the group of too many underrepresented employees may lead to structural marginalization…departments or areas which become undervalued as a whole. As Milkman asks, “Am I the best woman or am I the best minority in the group, or should I just cut and run?” In her study, Milkman points out that it is irrelevant whether or not the organization is truly acting with an implicit quota. If employees have the perception, it can lead to the same result. And in case you’re wondering, it appears that the effect may not be limited to minorities or women. Male employees also perceive their chances of success as hampered by the presence of a large number of other males.
The bottom line is that leaders may want to revisit the practice of clustering same-sex or same-race employees in work groups in order to foster cohesion. If the policy or practice invokes internal group competition for a limited number of opportunities, the unintended consequences may be greater than the benefit. It might make more sense to continue to create opportunities for senior management mentoring of same demographic employees, but to do so across organizational areas so that the internal competition is limited. While there are many limitations to this research, as there is with any social science study, it is at least worth considering…especially if your efforts are not creating the high potential workforce that you desire.