Building Leaders

It is a problem I faced for most of my thirty years in systems integration. I heard the same thing from many of the manufacturers I dealt with. For a long time, I thought it was something unique to the integration industry. But now, five years out from moving to a more consultive way of working, I realize the problem is universal to businesses and organizations.

We don’t have enough good leaders.

In integration, we need leaders in every aspect of our business. Project leaders make our projects go. We need leaders in sales to help our mid-level and poor performers rise to higher levels. Leaders are needed in the back office, to bring operations people and have them working smoothly as a group.

We have managers. But if we really want to grow, we need leaders.

Managers are generally promoted into their positions because they are very good at what they do. And so we move them up. Some of them may have some natural leadership ability, but a lot of them don’t. And we end up with competent, responsible people who keep the balls in the air, get the work done, but don’t lead.

Think about it a minute. Right now. Think through your organization. You have people who are competent, but they don’t really lead. They don’t raise their people up. They don’t generate loyalty and excitement and a sense of true teamwork. They don’t move their employees from a bunch of competent and skilled workers to a team that works together well.

And why not?

Because we don’t develop them.

Here’s the thing, there are basically three ways we get leaders in our company:

  • We hire a proven leader from outside. This can be expensive because leaders have value, and most of them know they have value.  And once you hire one, it takes a while for them to become effective as they learn your organization and people.
  • We put them in place and hope they develop. This is the path most  companies use. Some will. Some won’t.  The ones that do make it will make a lot of mistakes (some costly) but if we have patience they will turn into good leaders. Some will fail and we are faced with “do we fire them or live with their deficiencies”.
  • We try to mentor them from within. This can work well if you have leaders in place who…. 1) have the time to spend on a regular basis with your developing leaders, and….. 2) understand that developing leaders is not giving them advice on specific business issues, but a different kind of teaching, focused on developing general leadership skills and attitudes.

In the past couple of decades, a fourth way has emerged.

More and more companies have come to realize that developing leaders from within is the most cost effective way to do it. Developing from within means your emerging leaders already know your business and your way of working, and already have a loyalty to your organization. So developing them as leaders is an effective use of the resources you already have.

They also realize that the leaders they already have are most effective when they are doing what they do. A cost/benefit analysis of existing leader’s time makes them more useful doing what they do every day, not taking the time to mentor and keep up with new leaders.

So what is this fourth way?

Companies have found that investing in a leadership development program is remarkably cost effective and pays big benefits.

How big? Over the last decade, a lot of time has been spent figuring out how to measure the benefits of  leadership development. Dozens of studies crossing over many industries have been taken worldwide and the results tell us that typical return on an effective leadership development program has an ROI of between 300% to 700%.  A couple of studies have come up with even higher figures.

What makes an effective leadership development program?

Typically is has two components: Education and Coaching.

Training and Education are vital. There are some common skills and attitudes that can be taught. This is often done in classes (On-site or On Line), workshops or retreats.

But training alone doesn’t do it.  Coaching is vital. Again, we look to studies and what they tell us is that Leadership training alone, no matter how good, is only about a third as effective as a program that has training and Coaching.

The coaching element is done one on one, for a specified period of time after the training. Every week or two, the new leader has direct access to a leadership coach that helps them take what was learned, and consciously apply it. The coaching is designed to help the new leader find their strengths and weaknesses, and help them develop just what they need to be most effective.

I wish I had known

I wish I had known this when I was leading companies and divisions of companies in the integration industry. I used the mentorship way of doing things and while, over time, I became good at it – many people who worked for me are in leadership positions throughout the industry – I know now that I could have done better, and gotten results much faster. But I know at this point, just how effectively this format works.

As you read this, I have no idea whether you need more and better leaders in your company. But if you want to grow and keep growing, the odds are you do. This should give you some things to think about.

Leadership makes, or breaks. It’s that simple.

Be well. Travel Wisely,


PS: Does this make you think? I have this article in the form of a white paper, available as a PDF. Drop me an e-mail and I’ll gladly send it to you.

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