4 years ago, EHarmony Founder Neil Clark Warren left retirement to rescue the struggling website. Like a constant refrain from companies around the globe: business owners who have their eye on relaxation, travel and enjoying retirement being called back from the “good life” to re-immerse themselves in rescuing their struggling companies. Leadership transition problems plague even the best companies, whether the Founder is moving onto retirement or the current leaders are transitioning to other opportunities.
What is your leadership bench like? Leaders must be developed and supported at all levels of the company. And in most of the companies I work with, they’re not.
One of the biggest challenges for many executives who have weathered the difficulties of company infancy and adolescent growth is how to sustain a healthy foundation while growing the company in times of ever changing economic conditions, business practices and consumer and societal demands. At the helm of the most successful companies are leaders with both vision and the ability to lead their teams to overcome challenges, move past setbacks and ultimately create success.
However, as time passes and the company expands, a constant supply of emerging leadership talent is vital to future growth and success. And as top management moves onto other interests or retirement, it is crucial that talented individuals with the skills, temperament and training are ready to step in and take the reins.
Leadership is the ultimate advantage.
– Anthony Robbins
Unfortunately, most managers, supervisors, VPs, etc. are “rewarded” with their positions as a result of “scoring a big deal”, loyalty to the company or merely a passage of time. They have not been adequately (and often not all) trained or prepared to assume the mantle of true leadership. And if you ask most company leaders: What is a true leader? What do great leaders “do”? and, What do leaders “need” to succeed? Most won’t be able to answer; without at least some hemming and hawing.
The Costs of Poor Leaders Are High!
People who are tasked with leading, but unprepared to do so, experience tremendous overwhelm and stress. And one thing that definitely trickles down: stress! While it may not be readily apparent to the untrained eye, this overwhelm leads to among other issues, paralysis, an inability to take action or “smart” action, and a need to ‘take’ credit from others. Together with the lack of actual leadership abilities, the combination can have an extremely detrimental effect on the team and company as a whole, not to mention profitability. There is an effort to “look” busy, to justify the position and or salary. Some will invest in themselves. Some companies will invest in new or improved skills, but true leadership development requires a shift in mindset and a shift in behavior, which often goes missing until a problem or crisis emerges.
Equally important, but often unacknowledged, is that Senior Executives who are in the position of overseeing and growing the next crop of company leaders, vital to the long-term health of the company, do not themselves truly understand what is involved in actually “growing” leaders. They themselves may be great leaders, but they are not really sure how they got that way!
A significant contributing factor is very likely related to their personal time commitment and work ethic. To their credit, they have spent their careers intently focused on and dedicated to investing long hours, “working the business” and providing exceptional products and services. However, too often, planting and growing the seeds of leadership for the next phase is an afterthought. Additionally, they are often intensely invested in personally directing the company, finding it difficult to let go. And, frequently, they are justifiably fearful of what will happen to their baby if they actually do let go!
The Downside of Natural Leadership Talent
Many ultra-successful business people have a natural talent for their industry, as well as, inherent success skills. For example they are often intentional and constant learners. They invest time in strengthening their minds and bodies. They do not have to make endless mistakes, because they learn from others’ mistakes and successes. They often are also naturally talented in key success areas, such as time management, strategic and innovative thinking and managing their focus and mental state.
Because it is easy for them, they assume that other bright people have these natural traits too. Too often, they don’t! Unaware of this deficit, naturally successful individuals often discount the immense value of their abilities and are unaware that these talents, which for them seem simple, do not always come easily to those that have been tagged for leadership. They must be taught and developed.
Leaders: Nature vs. Nurture
While every team member plays an important role in the growth of a company, not everyone is designed to be a leader or a manager. When considering the long-term health of the company or preparing for a personal exit, some key questions to ask about your current leadership team and of any future promotions or hires, are: Is this person really the right fit for the job that needs to be done? Are they or do they have the ability to be groomed into the next superstar manager or CEO? And do they understand the need and have the ability to groom the next wave of leaders to potentially take their place when the time is right?
Next: What training, tools and development does each person actually need to create a corporate culture of intentional, sustainable and joyful growth? With the wave of millennials entering and soon to be dominating the workforce, starting now, this question and subsequent action plan will emerge as one of the biggest components of future sustainability and growth.
Here are just a few questions to ask. Does s/he:
- Truly understand and embrace the difference between being a team member and a leader?
- Think strategically? Does s/he think like an employee, taking direction and doing a good job? Or does s/he look for opportunities to think like a CEO, investing thought and time into the current and future health of the company, strategically solving problems and generating ideas, personally and from the team?
- Innovate for the good of the client?
- Constantly looking for gaps in service?
- Ask what the client needs or will potentially need in the next 6 months or year or more.
- Ask at each step of the sales and service process: How can the clients’ experience be made better, easier, more satisfying?
- Ask at each step of the service process: What service or product that we currently are not offering, will the client want or need next?
- Innovate for the good of the team? A strong tribal culture creates greater happiness and success for both team members individually and for the company as a whole. The more team members feel they are a vital part of the company, the more they are inspired to invest themselves in the success of both clients and the company. Win-win-win! A great question to ask each manager or leader: Do you know every team member’s (direct reports) currency? And… Do you spend it?!
- Seek honest feedback from clients, colleagues, supervisors and team members. The best leaders aren’t afraid of feedback, they seek it out. They also know how to discern its value, knowing when to use it or discard it as appropriate.
Companies that create massive success are those that are built on a solid foundation of smart and strong leaders. It’s not the companies with the best products that succeed, it is those with a team of leaders who inspire, teach, innovate…and most importantly lead.
Do you have great leaders at all levels in your company? Are you supporting them?