Leading for the Future

a maestro is getting ready to lead the orchestra

Leadership training programs abound, but do they develop leaders who can be successful in today’s topsy-turvy world?

For leaders to be successful in leading their organizations successfully into the future, they need to be experts at managing uncertainty, complexity and constant change. You may have hired the right talent, done your homework, crafted a sound and agreed-upon strategic plan but still, you may fail as a leader unless you can make good decisions when things go awry. You need to be able to shift direction when the unexpected occurs. 

Think of a maestro who has placed all the players in the right seats, has studied the symphony score, and has coordinated the orchestra sections so they know what role they play. But just as he climbs on the podium, something unexpected happens…the violinists go on strike, the fire alarm sounds, or the sheet music has been organized in the wrong sequence. The best leaders know how to assess the situation, make a decision and rally the troops.

Too many leadership training programs teach the same old, same old. To be able to lead successfully in the future, leaders must be able to adapt…to a broad variety of conditions, contexts and situations. We need leaders who are able to make decisions when there is uncertainty, lead through ambiguity and sift through complexity for the right priorities.

Forward thinking experts say that leading for the future requires a delicate balance: maintaining a steady purpose while adjusting course as needed when disruption occurs, keeping an eye on the entire ecosystem within which you operate while focusing on doing the best in your own world, staying true to yourself  while engaging in an ongoing process of growing your strengths. Just aspiring to someone else’s leadership blueprint will only see you become a pale version of that someone else. Be the most effective leader you can be for the future by preparing for the unexpected and remaining authentic to yourself and your organization.

Leadership Training Programs Teach Leaders to Set the Course

A businesswoman is setting the compass heading to true north

True leaders set a clear, compelling and believable direction and inspire others to follow…this is the core of what you learn in leadership training programs. It is different from learning how to manage. 

If you are looking to raise the level of management influence by instilling in your managers the qualities of leadership, here are ways to distinguish between the role of a leader and that of a manager according to leadership training program research.

  • Longer.  Leaders focus more on long-term goals while managers are responsible for fulfilling shorter-term objectives. 
  • Higher.  Leaders operate at a higher level of thinking. They need to have an overall perspective rather than a focus on what one team is doing. It is up to leaders to define and articulate the company vision, mission and values. Both leaders and managers, however, should strive to embody in their actions alignment with the company’s purpose and goals.
  • Empower.  Leaders know how to empower their employees to solve problems and meet challenges. Managers are more apt to delegate responsibility for resolving issues and expect to be more involved in the solutions and results.
  • Corporate Culture.  Leaders hire with an eye toward building a high performance culture; managers hire more for fit with their specific team and for needed skill sets.
  • Balance.  The best leaders operate using both heart and mind. They have high IQs as well as high EQs. The best managers have both too but need to rely more on their savvy business skills, whereas leaders lead with both. 
  • Openness.  Another trait shared by the best of these two worlds is openness. Whether you are leading a company or managing a team, you earn the trust of your followers by being transparent. Share with your workers what you know and the rationale behind your business decisions. Admit your mistakes when you make them and solicit help from your reports when you need it. 

In general, leaders work with a broader view. One role is not better than the other…you need both in a successful organization. Just understand the difference between the two and make sure you have both strong leaders and effective managers.

How The Best Leaders Mix It Up to Improve Performance

An egg labeled "Leader" is cracked open

A new leader is born. The question is which leadership style will this leader adopt? Will they be more persuaded by the leadership training programs that advocate the top-down approach or those that prefer the bottom-up style?  

With two decades of experience working with leaders who want to be the best they can be, we say that a combination of both is more. Neither style practiced exclusively will produce the best results. 

Here are the strengths and weaknesses of each leadership approach:

This is the more traditional leadership style where there are clear chains of command with the leader at the top. Top-down leaders do not necessarily seek others’ opinions. And they certainly don’t value others’ input on an equal basis. What they can do is set clear direction and expectations. There are no choices to be made….the way forward has been charted already. These leaders define goals and make sure that everyone is on the path to achieving them. They dictate the path and see that their workers perform. It is simple, direct and quick to implement.

This leadership style takes advantage of searching for the best and most implementable ideas. Everyone’s input is sought. And because all workers are encouraged to offer their ideas, they all have a sense of ownership and belief that the path forward is possible. As we know, when employees buy into the company goals because they had input, they are more motivated to work toward the goal and are more engaged in the outcome. Another advantage is that this is a style that welcomes innovation. However, it can be slow because it takes time to gather in each suggestion, weigh it and respond.

The Most Effective Combination
Both styles have their positives and negatives.  Both styles have situations where they are most effective. For example, if your house is on fire, you do not want the firemen to solicit input on how to best evacuate your children.  You want them to act quickly and decisively based upon their experience and training.  Alternatively, when trying to identify how to best engage and retain your top talent, it pays to understand what matters most to your employees.  

The best leaders know how to situationally “mix it up.” We advise our clients to choose their style depending upon what they hope to accomplish. When it is time to marshal the troops and set a clear direction, the best leaders work top-down. When it is time for implementation, try the bottom-up approach. This way individual teams get to figure out how best to reach the goal that has been set. Team members who know best how to achieve the goal are encouraged to offer their thoughts and they become a committed part of the solution.

As a leader, set the direction and then let your teams figure out how to get you there.

Learn more at: http://www.lsaglobal.com/leadership-development/

6 Reasons Well-Intentioned Leadership Training Backfires

a cartoon figure holds a chemistry experiment that backfires

You may have all the right intentions, but unless you design your leadership training programs very carefully, they can potentially do more harm than good. 

You want your leaders to learn, grow and perform.  Leadership training may be one of the best paths to take to support their development, but you should know that few executives believe that investments in leadership training and development are having a real impact on changing on-the-job behaviors or performance. 

Our training measurement research of over 800 different training programs found that only 1-in-5 participants changed their behavior and performance from even well-designed training.  With what is expected and required from leaders today, we believe that leadership development and performance is an experiment you can’t afford to have backfire.

Here are some of the six of the most common reasons leadership training has little effect:

  1. Not enough relevance.For leadership development programs to be set up to succeed, the desired outcomes, design and scope must be highly relevant to three key stakeholders (1) The Target Audience, (2) Their Bosses, and (3) The Executive Team. We call this 3×3 Relevance – without it, learning leaders and your target audience will struggle to get leadership initiatives off the ground or fully implemented.  We find that the most relevant leadership development solutions take an action learning approach that develops leaders while moving the business strategy forward.

  2. Not enough facilitator credibility. Yes, the facilitator may be able to command a room and have many years of experience leading meaningful discussions, but what really matters when facing an audience of executive leaders is their level of business acumen and real life experience leading and managing businesses and people.

  3. Not enough of a challenge. Don’t turn your leaders off by roping them into a leadership program that is far beneath them and what they are being asked to do. Repeating the ABCs of good leadership when they are ready for XYZs will only frustrate and torture them.  Focus only on the critical few scenarios, challenges, competencies and situations related to what they need to succeed both now and in the future.  Ensure that you push them out of their comfort zone enough to get them where they need to be.

  4. Not enough interaction. Any training program worth its salt will heavily engage the learners in relevant and powerful experiential activities. Be sure there is a lively mix of simulations, role playing, small group exercises, relevant scenarios, reflection and discussion. If lecture or the sharing of content and models takes up more than 30% of the session, you probably have an instructional design issue that needs to be addressed.

  5. Not enough follow-up. Training by itself, even if it is well designed, will do little to change on-the-job behavior or performance. To be effective, you need a meaningful and aligned system of measurement and reinforcement that includes tools, job aids, refreshers, ongoing performance coaching, incentives and consequences that matter to the learners, their boss and the business. 

  6. Not enough accountability. Put a fair, accurate, timely and transparent measurement system in place to monitor success and hold learners (and their bosses) accountable for embedding the desired behaviors into their day-to-day routines.

Don’t invest in leadership training programs unless you have made sure that the training is appropriately targeted for your audience, teaches the behaviors you know will help them and the business succeed, has effective follow-up, and will be monitored for application in their real world.

Learn more at: http://www.lsaglobal.com/leadership-development/

Leadership Skills: Effective Leaders Focus on the Future

a cartoon man looks through a telescope at a rising growth curve

Much of what defines a good leader is their ability to look into and plan for the future. They need to have a sense of what could happen and a belief in what they can make happen. 

One of the leadership critical skills they need to develop is the ability to plan for their own succession and for the succession of their team. Every conscientious leader takes a good look at the talent on the ladder behind them and tries to groom worthy successors.  But our employee engagement research tells us that far too many good managers are leaving.  This means that the pipeline for future leaders is often too narrow for comfort.

Over half of those surveyed believe high performing managers leave because they want to work for a more innovative company.  These managers want to work closer to technology’s frontier. They view their current firms as behind the times and unlikely to catch up.

What can be done about this brain drain that threatens the future of otherwise healthy organizations? Their leaders need to figure out how to spur innovation…enough so their talented managers want to stay where they are.

Fostering innovation is an important skill that can be overlooked in most leadership training programs. But we believe that each situation, corporate culture and leadership team is unique. When it comes to effectively developing executives, “one size” does not fit all. In cases where the shrinkage of leadership talent threatens the overall future of the company, we often look at how to foster a corporate culture that values and promotes innovation as a way to retain high performing and promising managers. 

This often involves:

  • Creating a relaxed and flexible working environment where ideas flow easily
  • Hiring people who align with your vision for developing new ways of thinking
  • Valuing diversity as a way to enrich thinking and problem-solving approaches because of the team’s different backgrounds and life experience
  • Looking for people who are deeply enthusiastic about what they do

Customize your leadership training programs to address the most critical issues facing and threatening your organization. If there’s a high turnover of high performing managers who seek more innovative companies, your focus should be on creating a more innovative culture “at home.” 

Are Training Events a Waste of Money?

a trash baskets stuffed to overflowing with money

The short answer is Yes.

Based upon over 800 training measurement projects, we know that on average, only 1-in-5 people change their behavior after attending an isolated training program.  That is not to say that isolated training events do not have their place in terms of career development, professional development and the basic talent hygiene required to attract and retain talent.  It just means that you should clearly manage expectations in terms of impact.

It is no wonder that few executives are willing to spend money on one-off training programs…especially when money is tight. They seemed to recognize (before even many in the training world itself) that it takes more than a well-designed and professionally-delivered one- or two-day program to make a difference in terms of behavior change, performance improvement or business results. The point is that training, on its own, rarely makes good business sense.

For training to be approved and welcomed by executives, it must be persuasively linked to a business metric that they are convinced will have a meaningful impact on the business. Any learning solution should be aligned directly with the organization’s strategic goals. If, for example, the leadership team has decided that the company’s future success depends in great measure on increasing employee retention by raising the performance level of managers,  leadership training programs can be a large part of the plan. But that is just the beginning. 

You may have determined that the training has relevance to your company’s unique situation, current and future needs. But you have not taken steps to assess just which critical few leadership skills or competencies need to be built or strengthened for leaders to perform at their peak, nor to ensure adoption of the new skills and behaviors, nor have you put a system in place to measure progress and success. For training to be effective, you need to cover all these bases.

Once you know that the training makes sense in terms of the company strategy and you have executives’ support and backing, then you need to establish:

1. Business Metric to Move.  Identify the business metric to move and the value of moving it compared to other priorities.  Most leadership development programs strive to improve leadership execution effectiveness of key corporate strategies, grow revenues, increase performance, decrease costs, improve employee engagement or decrease retention.

2. Most Pressing Leadership Scenarios.  Identify the critical few leadership scenarios and challenges that matter most to best execute your strategy within your unique corporate culture.

3. Critical Few Leadership Skill Gaps.  Determine the specific leadership skill gaps of your target audience as compared with what you know is needed to succeed as a leader in your organization – for both today and in the near future.

4. Stakeholder Commitment.  Engage the target audience and their bosses with their clear understanding of the goals of the initiatives, where they stand currently, what you expect in terms of improved performance and how they will be measured and supported going forward.

5. Performance Coaching.  Make sure your leaders know how to coach effectively and are committed to doing so. Their long-term involvement in the process is critical to the success of the learning solution and the overall initiative. In fact in a recent study at a Fortune 500 Financial Services firm, of about 60 participants who received individual coaching, 9 out of 10 improved their scores in the critical areas measured.  Pretty impressive. And if you need another statistic to prove the point, of the almost 50 participants who did NOT receive coaching, their scores decreased in 9 out of 10 areas measured. 

6. Systems, Processes and Practices. Identify any barriers to behavior and performance change related to the systems, practices and processes required for improved performance.  The most common include hiring, onboarding, performance management and measurement, decision making, rewards and recognition, project management, communication, talent management and strategic planning.

7. Training Measurement.  The last piece of the puzzle is ongoing training measurement of leading activities and lagging results. That means measuring skill adoption and correlated performance results.

2 Smart Tactics to Lead with Strength without Being a Bully

a cartoon figure lifts a huge barbell with ease

The best leaders often come across as powerful and persuasive. They are clear on where they are going and are sure-footed along the way. They overcome obstacles and move aside naysayers…but they never bully or manipulate.

How do you manage your behavior so you are perceived as an effectively assertive leader who people want to follow rather than an overly aggressive leader people try to avoid? 

There is a major difference. When you find a way to make your voice heard in a confident and respectful way, you come across as assertive and this shows leadership strength. When you dominate the discussion and squelch other opinions in a demeaning and disrespectful way, you come across as aggressive and this alienates your team and decreases your influence as a leader.

Surely you’ve seen this aggressive behavior before. We certainly have in our twenty-plus years in the field of leadership coaching. One of the most persuasive arguments for ceasing this kind of behavior is to observe the effect it has on the team. Employees are offended and angry at being abruptly and rudely cut off. They feel undervalued and powerless. They feel disrespected and unheard.  They begin to hold their thoughts and disengage. No responsible leader would want these reactions from the very team they must count on for success. They know that to succeed they need the hearts and minds of the entire team.

In our customized leadership training programs, we recommend several ways to soften your approach…not weaken it but rather pay more attention to how you want to be perceived.

1. Listen to yourself.
Make sure your tone of voice is modulated. Do you sound angry or forceful? Abusive or determined? Dictatorial or strong? Often it is not the words you use that leave an impression, but the tone you use to deliver your message. 

Also monitor your delivery pace. When you talk fast, making one point after another, and leave no room for rebuttal, questions or debate, you can come across as a bully. The best leaders know how to be passionate in expressing their opinions but are open to ask for and listen to others’ thoughts.

2. Recognize the emotion behind the communication.
When you feel strongly about something, temper your emotion. Rather than berating an employee who has really messed up, ask how they plan to repair the damage. You may well be angry but take a deep breath before you respond. Angrily expressing your frustration will not help the employee nor encourage your team to solve the problem. Your role as a leader is to guide your team toward solutions and to create the environment for them to succeed.

Learn more at: http://www.lsaglobal.com/leadership-development/