A common complaint from senior-level management in many companies is the lack of leadership skills demonstrated by their employees, which they note as: independent thinking, creative problem-solving, analytical thinking and effective communication.
I assisted a Los Angeles-based client with this issue, I began by looking for the future leaders within the company. I was looking for employees who might currently be underutilized, untested, underdeveloped or even unseen. In most cases, when a company’s leaders perceive a lack of leadership in their employees, there are three potential contributing factors. Understanding these three reasons can help an organization commit to improve their approach to leadership development.
Three Ways to Improve the Way Organizations Grow Leaders:
1: The hiring process. The hiring process includes how a company attracts, qualifies and interviews potential new hires. Leadership qualities such as those I listed above should be considered in all phases of the hiring process. Personality surveys such as DISC, Myers-Briggs and others are specifically designed to assess a person’s personality in regard to leadership, sales, management and other roles. These tests are pretty accurate and can give valuable insight to a person’s capacities, potentials, communicational style, etc. (Also see my blog about developing a Hiring Rubric.)
2: The squelch factor. In the case of the L.A. firm looking for future leaders, why was I, a company outsider, better suited to identify future leaders than current management? It could be attributed to the squelch factor, which is quite common in the workplace. This is when individuals in the work force are rendered less relevant than they could be to building and growing the company.
This happens in a number of ways and for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a manager doesn’t provide opportunity for an employee to grow because they don’t think the individual can handle greater levels of responsibility. But think about it: How does one ever know their capacities until they’re tested?
One of my success strategies is “Adversity introduces us to ourselves.” Another word for adversity is a challenge. Sometimes we test people and they fail (and we learn a lot), but sometimes they rise to the challenge (and we learn a lot).
Another reason for the squelch factor? Many managers fail to see how their employees’ capacities have grown over time. It is not uncommon for people in various types of relationships (parent-child, manager-employee) to see others as who they used to be rather than who they’ve become. Once the squelch factor has been identified, it can be addressed with good training at the management level. (Also see my blog on the Immaculate Perception Myth, which discusses how leaders can be blinded to potential talent.)
3: Mentorship and leadership. It is said that some people are “born leaders.” Perhaps this is true. However, most people in leadership positions in this country had to learn their leadership skills and continue to hone them with books, strategic advisors, and leadership forums. For this reason, one of the best investments an organization can make is a simple, informal mentorship program. In many ways, mentoring has become a lost art in this country.
A good mentorship approach identifies the individual needs of each person and provides direct, person-to-person training with a specific, job-related focus. It is made clear that the purpose of the mentorship program isn’t to provide promises of advancement, but rather the opportunity to grow and improve for the sake of becoming a better person and a more valued (and valuable) employee. (See my blog on Informal Mentorship Programs.)
Leadership is a highly misunderstood concept in this country. Far too many people think that it is inextricably related to authority. This perspective prevents good leadership development for the individuals who aren’t yet in positions of authority.
Organizations would do well to actively develop the potential leadership qualities they deem valuable in their future leaders. A commitment to leadership development from the top must then find itself implemented in different areas of the organization — from hiring, to mentorship, and development programs.
The only thing more expensive than training and developing employees is NOT training and developing them.
Author, speaker, business advisor and Trenton native Joe Caruso is an expert in the psychology that drives people’s thoughts and behaviors. He resides on Grosse Ile. For more information on Joe and the Caruso Leadership Institute, visit www.carusoleader-ship.com. For more of Joe’s writings, click the “blog” tab on his home page.