Want to grow your influence this year and beyond? Perhaps you manage a small team or own a mid-size company. Or maybe you’re an individual contributor and don’t see yourself as a leader – but someday. Regardless how we perceive ourselves, we all have the capacity to be leaders – right here and now. It’s tempting to look at magnetic leaders who are media darlings as models for success. The reality is – real leadership is far more subtle and nuanced than offering a charismatic speech or witty platitudes.
Travis Bradberry offers an excellent great definition of leadership.
DEFINITION: Leadership is a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others toward the achievement of a greater good.
There are a lot of actions and behaviors needed to “maximize the efforts of others toward the achievement of a greater good.” This doesn’t lend itself to a cookie cutter, narrowly defined list of traits that make an effective leader.
There you go! That’s why leadership is so hard to implement. Personalities are vast and complex. A leadership style or practice that works for one group may be completely ineffective for another. This is why good leaders utilize their skills to understand people – their strengths, blind spots, motivations, and pet peeves. Once we truly understand someone then we can figure out the best way to inspire and motivate them. Until then, a lot of energy gets wasted. Effective leaders may instinctively know this. But take heart, these skills also can be learned.
Do leadership skills matter? Jack Zenger reports on some compelling results from a study that examined leadership skills and results of 50,000 managers at a Fortune 500 company. The top 10% of leaders more than doubled the companies’ profits as compared to the remaining 90%. To reach high aspirations, successful CEOs know they need an effective team supporting them. Why are organizations having trouble? Many of the leaders I know want a leadership team that is effective and gets results. Yet, they find themselves struggling with personality conflicts, teams that sabotage each other, and individual contributors who offer less than the minimum. The amount of time spent resolving problems and conflict is staggering. High performing employees get promoted to a manager role and then find themselves struggling. These newly minted leaders have no tools to be effective. We have this misguided notion that leadership should be intuitive – it’s not!
Successful leaders possess confidence, commitment and skillful communication. They are creative problem solvers and strategic thinkers. How do you teach that? I count myself fortunate that, early in my career, I received leadership training in the Army (Hooah!) While I’ve had other, effective leadership training since, nothing compares with the multi-faceted approach of the military’s leadership development efforts. Tom Kolditz points out in his article for the Harvard Business Review that “military leadership qualities are formed in a progressive and sequential series of carefully planned training, educational, and experiential events…”
Most organizations aren’t set up and can’t afford to provide the comprehensive and intensive, real world experiences of the military. However, organizational leaders can:
Make sure the development opportunity ties to real world problems
Engage current leaders as coaches and mentors
Provide consistent and frequent feedback (A couple hours of training won’t do it.)
Link classroom and business objectives
Quality leadership development enables leaders to increase their impact. January, for many, is the time of fresh starts, new goals and aspirations – a clean page to write your new chapter. Investing in yourself and your team’s leadership skills will be worth it.