Build Leadership Like Infrastructure… Cuz It IS Infrastructure.

At a recent dinner w/some execs from my co we got into a discussion about leadership development.   The most senior guy at the table said that leadership development should be allowed to happen organically within the company, without any structured approach.  As he told his story, we learned that he happened to get a good mentor early in his career who taught him how to be very effective.  Based on his experience, he concluded that it should happen that way for everyone else.

I violently disagreed: Assuming you believe that leadership capability is the single most critical priority for your company, then why rely on an anomaly that coincidentally aligns high-potential leaders with seasoned, effective coaches?  Rather than rely on luck or coincidence, I believe that great companies proactively align high potential leaders with the people who can accelerate their development – deliberately, repeatedly, and consistently.     Why not systematically build your leadership infrastructure the same way you plan & build your IT infrastructure?

At a minimum, you should be doing these things if you want to build a sustainable leadership infrastructure:

  • Don’t rely on anyone else to do this for you!   Many people have great HR organizations that connect your teams to quality leadership training.  This is good and you should partner with them.   But you should not wait on them.  You own the development of leadership within your team, not HR.
  • Conduct a recurring talent assessment: 1-2 times per year, conduct a formal evaluation of the performance and “promotability” of your top leadership level.  Then tell them where they stand v. their peers, and the specific areas you need them to develop.
  • Codify your own leadership processes, methods, & competencies.  Put what you know in writing so that you can effectively teach it to your teams.  By doing this, you will set clear expectations about their leadership “how.”
  • Develop your top leaders: Periodically you must take your teams away from the day-to-day operations, shut off the laptops, and actually teach your own team the leadership capabilities that you expect out of them.  (If you are reading this & thinking “but what would I teach them”… then you have a different problem.)

Bottom line: Approach “leadership development” systematically just like you do with every other part of your infrastructure.  

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