Most leaders are “made” not “born.” Many labor under the misconception that leadership is an innate ability resident only in a few. We look at the great leaders of the past and tend to think that they possess some genetic or socialized code that we cannot possess. The truth is that some people are “born leaders” but they are small minority of the people actually called upon to lead.
In fact, leadership is something that I believe every individual in an organization should understand and be able to practice when called upon. Historically organizations only required the people at the top of the organization to lead but in today’s complex organizations where all the energies of the organization are centered on the customer, it is necessary for people at all levels to be competent as leaders. At any given time, anyone can be called on to take a leadership role in a mission critical project.
The first step in developing leadership is to identify a set of competencies that you and your organization agree exemplify leadership. There are classic sets of leadership competencies that include such topics as vision, motivation, teamwork, communication. We rely on the Authentic Leadership Checklist™ for a robust list of competencies.
Let’s look at the first and most important element in developing leadership skills. Once competencies have been chosen, then it is important to measure the individual’s proficiency. This can be done through observation, interviews or an third party assessment. My preference is to assess leadership competency using a multi-rater tool that allows a leader to rate their own ability along with ratings from the direct supervisor, peers and employees. This 360-degree view of proficiency is a most humbling experience but for anyone serious about developing leadership ability, it is crucial.
Once the assessment is complete then the development plan is built. The plan should take into account the existing proficiency of the individual on the leadership aspects that are critical to performance. Many times organizations try to build the perfect leader who is strong in the all the identified competencies. However, the reality is most of us have some areas of leadership that we can excel at and other areas that will constantly be a struggle. Emphasize development of the competencies critical to the job and do not focus on those that are not critical.
The next step is to execute the leadership development plan. Development of leadership competencies can be done through formalized education, seminars and workshops, individual study, on the job coaching or a leadership advisor.
Finally, once the development activities have been completed (usually after one year) it is important to the reassess the individual’s skill level to determine improvement. This should be done using the same method as the initial assessment so a true measurement of improvement can be tracked.
This cycle of development is simple and yet many organizations fail to account for the need and ability to develop leadership skills in their people. The organizations that struggle the most are the entrepreneurial enterprises. Many entrepreneurs fail to see the need for leadership in anyone but themselves and as a result often build organizations that are overly dependent one person for all of the leadership and direction. This style may work when the organization is formed, but company growth strains human capital and unless leadership is cultivated and developed ahead of the needs of the company the organization can stall out.
Consequently, leadership development is critical to long-term success of any organization and the long-term satisfaction of the workforce.