The best thing…

I have spent much of the past ten days reconnecting with clients, getting the new year moving after the delicious sluggishness of the holidays. As I have talked to folks, particularly my corporate clients, the subject of leadership has come up several times.

John Maxwell, the internationally recognized leadership expert, often talks about how organizations never move past the level of their leadership. He calls it “The Law of the Lid”, and it says simply that organizations are held down by the quality of their leadership.

Many companies start with one, or a tiny cadre of leaders with vision and the ability to galvanize and lead their growing organization. But as an organization grows, their ability can only be spread so far. In time, you need leaders in every aspect of your organization. Without quality leaders, our organizations and companies are mired in mediocrity and perform below expectations. And so, as leadership came up in conversation I asked this question: What are you going to do differently this year to build your leadership core?

The answers have mostly fallen into one of three camps.

  • They didn’t know. They only knew they needed to do something differently.
  • They were going to buy new leaders – try and hire them away from other organizations and merge them into their existing culture.
  • Or… they were going to train new leaders. And when I asked how, I never got a clear picture of what they planned to do.

Think about that a minute. The one thing that can either hold our organizations or companies back this year… and we don’t know what we are going to do differently to get different results. What do you think is going to happen? Either the existing leaders will get worked harder and harder till they break, or the organization will not reach the goals and dreams we have for it.

Doing nothing is not a good option. Hiring someone away from another organization can work, It’s generally expensive, and bringing in someone from the outside generally means a time of acclimation as you blend their leadership style with your corporate culture.

Which leaves training. Training can work beautifully, or it can be a waste of money, depending on how it’s applied. Let me make a suggestion, based both on personal experience, and studies. You see, the best leaders are developed, not trained. In an best practices situation, the process has three steps:

  • Inspiration – Companies bring in inspirational speakers all the time. People who’s life and experience, well told, will help your own people get excited about their own possibilities and potential. Bring in a quality inspirational speaker and spend your time watching the attendees. Who is obviously inspired about the speaker’s message. Who talks about it for days afterwards. THOSE are the people who have the most potential to be developed into leaders.
  • Train – Training is vital, but limited. Training is built around processes and information that all potential leaders can use. Too often, and this is particularly true in our technical world, training is based on giving the leaders technical skills, or information on resources and company policies. These are important, very important, but they don’t teach people to lead. So somewhere along the way, training aimed specifically in arming your people with the techniques and principles of leadership is vital. If you don’t do this kind of training, your organization or company will always suffer from sub par leadership. It doesn’t mean that your people can’t lead. It simply means no one showed them how.
  • Develop – Many organizations stop at training. And certainly training is useful. But organizations that want top notch leaders go the extra step. They develop their leaders. Why is this important? Because leadership training is generalized. Development is one on one, and takes the information and, working one on one with the new leaders and helps them take their own gifts and styles to make the most of the generalized processes. When you help your leaders connect best practices with who they are as people, building on their strengths, you end up with powerful, empowered, effective leaders. The kind you want and need to move forward.

In an ideal world, all three of these steps are done by a single person or organization to provide continuity and maximize the effectiveness of each step. That’s why at The John Maxwell Team, where I work, we develop our consultants to be excellent at all three aspects. But no matter who you use to help you build leaders, keep these three steps in mind. These three steps work.

Many companies see leadership development as an expense. But others, often the most successful organizations in their industry, see it as an investment. How much is having loyal, productive, team-focused members worth? How much is less turnover in your staff and contractors worth? What is not burning out your top managers worth? What is…. Well you get the idea.

Can you do it in house? Maybe. The issue in doing leadership development in-house is that too often it ends up being training about the company and field, NOT about how to lead. You will spend as much time in lost productivity of your top people to do the training in-house as you would spend bringing in someone who is focused on developing leaders, with less effectiveness.

So…. what are you going to do differently this year to grow and to get better? If you don’t have a clear picture, consider developing more, better leaders. Nothing you can do will have as much payback in a single year, as this.

Be well, Travel Wisely,




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