The greatest untapped resource for leadership development is experienced leaders who have done the work to improve their effectiveness as leaders. That’s why I recently conducted a survey – the PeopleThink Leadership Journey Survey – to capture insight, experience, and lessons learned from people who have “earned their stripes,” so to speak, as experienced leaders of teams and/or organizations in a variety of industries. I’ll be integrating the results of the survey into my GET REAL Leadership Program, which I’ll be rolling out early next year.
Survey respondents represented more than 10 different industries across the US and Europe. Industries included Technology, Life Sciences, Financial, Professional Services, Learning and Development, Nonprofit, and others. Leadership roles represented ranged from Mid-Level Manager (17%) to Senior Leader (31%) to Founder/Entrepreneur (21%) to C-Level Executive (18%). The average length of respondent leadership experience was 13+ years.
Here are some highlights of what the leaders collectively shared from their Leadership Journeys.
Primary purpose of a leader. The majority of respondents said that the primary purpose of a leader is to 1-Build a Strong Team. Other purposes that rated highly include (in order):
2-Focus on the people (coach, develop, grow)
4-Set the vision
5-Shape the culture
Since one of the goals of the survey was to capture insight that I could incorporate into my leadership development and coaching work, I wanted to understand what respondents believed were some of the key actions that helped them achieve their purpose as a leader. Here are some responses:
“Hire the right people” (Build a strong team)
“Learn to listen” (Focus on the people)
“Hold yourself and others accountable (Achieve results)
“Communicate the vision” (Set the vision)
“Build trust” (Shape the culture)
Leadership competencies. Respondents identified the following as the competencies that most helped them succeed as leaders (in order)
1-People focus (coach, develop, grow)
3-See the big picture
Personal development. A rather alarming result from the survey was that while 74% of respondents said they believe that leaders should carve out time to develop their leadership competencies, 40% spend LESS THAN 15% of their time developing those competencies. Competencies they identified as important to work on:
2-Seeking feedback from others
3-Being comfortable with change
5-Having difficult conversations
Developing others. 86% of respondents said they believe that leaders should carve out time to help their people grow and develop. The top resources they currently make available to their people:
Some of the greatest insight from the survey came from the open-ended questions where respondents were asked to reflect on what they would have done differently on their leadership journey, and what their key lessons learned were.
“I would have invested in myself earlier in the journey.”
“I wish I had taken more risks.”
“I was once told that if I felt like an ‘imposter’ in my leadership role, then I didn’t understand my true value. So, I began to ask what value I provided, and in all my years as a leader that has made the biggest difference for me.”
“I would have started sooner to take more time to work on my leadership competencies.”
“Hire the right people and invest in their development.”
“Focus on the people and the results will follow…This is now my leadership philosophy and it has proven true many times.”
“To make critical decisions, always keep in mind the mission and vision of the organization. When you lose sight of that, it never turns out well.”
“Delegate and empower people! It’s the only way to achieve multiples of what you can achieve on your own.”
“See the future, believe the future, feel the future.”
If you didn’t have the opportunity to complete the survey, but would like to share some insight or lessons learned from your leadership journey, please complete the The PeopleThink Leadership Journey Survey.
Till next time,
On any given day, in just about any given business publication, you will find one or more laundry lists of skills, qualities, behaviors, competencies, and whatevers that are attributed to an effective, successful or great leader. It’s actually a bit mind-boggling. How can anyone possibly be all of that?!
Well, here’s the thing.
I’ve been working with leaders at all levels for…well, a long time. I’ve implemented leadership development programs across organizations large and small, and I’ve worked one-on-one with senior leaders and executives. I’ve been a leader in the corporate world, on boards and in my own business. And here’s what I’ve learned. While the leadership competencies touted in those lists are important, it’s time to get real about what makes a leader truly extraordinary. It’s not rocket science. It’s what I call the Get Real Leadership Basic 6 (or Leadership According to Karen).
Learn. Be self-aware: know your strengths and be willing to admit (and work on) your blind spots. Make the time to get to know your team. Be curious. Cultivate a growth mindset and set an example of continuous learning. Provide learning opportunities for your people and encourage them to keep growing.
TAWK. That’s New Jersey-speak for talk. Communicate, communicate, communicate. People need to hear things multiple times in multiple ways before they really “hear” it. Adapt your communication style to the listener – everyone takes in information differently. Remember it’s about them, not you. Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. Oh! And don’t forget to listen!
Tomorrow. What is your vision? Share it. Give your people a reason to want to stay. Let them know what’s next, how “we’re” going to get there, and what they can do to help. Give your people a reason to believe in the future and to want to participate in building it.
Resources. Give your people adequate resources, tools and support to do their jobs. Then get out of the way and let them do it. Don’t make them beg or want to look elsewhere to fulfill their goals. Be sure you have the right resources to make your team successful.
Please and Thank You. Say it. Always. No excuses. Always be courteous and kind. Express your gratitude and mean it. No one gets tired of hearing: “Please” and “Thank You.”
Laugh. Laugh often and laugh loudly. You spend a whole lot of time working. Make sure you create a work environment that people are happy to come to, where they feel supported and connected, where they can do their best work. Then enjoy the ride!
You’ll note that integrity, honesty and trust are not on this list. Why? Because they are just “no-brainers.” Without trust there is absolutely no one who is going to follow you anywhere. Trust is the foundation of a leader.
“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader. A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” - Eleanor Roosevelt
Till next time,
Think about this: 85% of job success is due to having well-developed soft skills, and only 15% is due to technical, or hard skills. This is from Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and the Stanford Research Center.
It amazes me that despite this research, organizations (and individuals) still tend to focus on developing hard skills. In 2010, employers spent $171.5 billion on employee training and only 27.6% of those training dollars went toward soft skills, according to the Association for Talent Development (ATD).
It’s time to put more of our dollars and development efforts where they really count. In our increasingly global, dynamic and service-oriented way of working, organizations need leaders, teams and individual contributors who have the personal behaviors and interpersonal skills that will help them grow and thrive.
So what are those skills? In my work with organizations to create leadership and employee development initiatives, these are the 10 soft skills/behaviors (in alpha order) that leaders most often tell me they need in their people.
Collaboration – the ability to meld ideas and share credit with others.
Creativity – initiating new approaches to projects, solving problems, etc.
Effective communication – clear and concise speaking and writing paired with active listening.
Emotional intelligence – self-aware and sensitive to others, empathetic.
Flexibility – adaptable to change.
Growth mindset – recognizing they don’t know it all. Being willing to learn.
Leadership – the ability to lead, even without the title.
Reliability – do what you say you’re going to do by when you say you’re going to do it.
Resilience – the ability to continue pursuing the goal despite roadblocks and challenges.
Teamwork – sharing the work and supporting others toward a common goal.
Organizations that want to remain competitive and individuals who want to increase their marketability would do well to put more emphasis on identifying gaps in these skills and then creating a comprehensive development plan to close those gaps.
One of the best ways to identify gaps is through a behavioral assessment. The one I use with leaders, teams and individuals is Lumina Spark. Lumina Spark is a state-of-the-art psychometric assessment that provides a framework to help people achieve better self-awareness and learn how to improve their working relationships with others.
Check out the Lumina Spark fact sheet, and then contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how PeopleThink can help your organization build its people capability.
Till next time,
It’s easy to become complacent at the top. You may tell yourself, “I worked hard to get here and now I’m just going to coast for a while.” Or, “I’m waaaay too busy to carve out time for learning.” Or even, “I’ve maxed out my learning capacity” (AKA “I already know it all.”)
Here’s a reality check. There’s always more to learn. And the best and most successful leaders recognize that the learning journey never stops.
Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has done extensive research on achievement and success. In this work, she discovered that people tend to have one of two mindsets – a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that their innate qualities such as intelligence or talent are fixed traits and that any success they achieve is directly attributable to those qualities. No need to work hard or continue learning.
Conversely, people with a growth mindset believe that their innate qualities are just a starting point and that those qualities can be further developed through hard work and dedication. Dweck found that the most successful people have a growth mindset. They have a love of learning and a resilience that helps them achieve great things.
PeopleThink recently did a series of interviews with experienced leaders to learn about their respective leadership journeys and what they each considered the keys to their success.
The most common theme? Continuous learning and development.
And it’s not just about learning and continuing to develop the skills you need to lead – setting a vision, effective communication, people care, achieving results, etc. It’s about identifying and developing the personal behaviors that will help you lead effectively. Things like listening to others, accepting feedback, embracing change, learning to be more confident, becoming self-aware. Carving out time to work on these leadership skills and behaviors – competencies – is essential to becoming an effective leader.
So how do you do it? First of all, adopt the right mindset. Be curious, and admit that you still have room for improvement. Recognize that investing the time to do so will not only benefit you, but will also benefit your team (we’ll get to developing them in my next blog). Then, follow these steps:
Identify and acknowledge gaps. What are the areas you need to develop to become the leader you want (and need) to be? Do some self-reflection to make a list, and then get some feedback from others (here’s where you develop “accepting feedback.”)
Create a plan. Select one or two areas that you will focus on in the next three months. Do some research to find resources and opportunities to develop and practice those skills/behaviors. Carve out and schedule the time.
Execute the plan. Post your plan somewhere visible – your calendar, your refrigerator, your desktop. Stay focused! Concentrate on the one or two areas you’ve prioritized – don’t get distracted by the other areas you’ve identified. You can work on them in your next plan.
Remember that learning comes in many forms, from many places. In my leadership development work with organizations, I’ve seen the greatest benefits come from programs where we used a variety of components including: workshops, mentoring or coaching, assessments, stretch assignments to apply the learning, teach-back sessions conducted by participants, leadership forums, and required reading.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to one another.” – John F. Kennedy
Till next time,
In my last blog I wrote about the importance of leadership development at all levels. And, as I said, it is especially important for people to receive training as they make the transition from being an individual contributor to leading a team. With that being said, it is EQUALLY important that new leaders – and leaders at all levels – proactively share the responsibility for their own development. After all, “The road to success is not a path you find, but a trail you blaze.” (Robert Brault) Ya gotta put some skin in the game.
So, what is your responsibility, as a leader, in initiating and continuing your personal development?
First, become self-aware. Spend some time reflecting on the behaviors and skills that have helped you thus far in your career and be honest with yourself about those that have worked against you. If given the opportunity to take a personality assessment, 360-review, or candid conversation with your leader about your strengths and development areas – take it. Gaining self-awareness is the first step on your journey (blaze that trail!) to becoming an effective leader.
Create your personal vision, or as I like to call it, your leadership mantra. What kind of leader do you want to be? Who was the best leader you ever had? What was remarkable about them? In the leadership model I use – Lumina Leader – we look at four domains of leadership: Leading with Vision, Leading with Drive, Leading to Deliver, and Leading through People. As leaders, we should develop competency in each of these domains, yet we tend to operate most frequently in one or two of them. Here’s a brief description of each. Where do you see yourself?
Leading with Vision - focuses on strategy, innovation and inspiring the team.
Leading with Drive - provides the team with very clear direction and is focused on achieving excellence.
Leading to Deliver - strength lies in planning, follow-through and accountability.
Leading through People - focuses on coaching and developing the team and creating win-win partnerships.
Identify and acknowledge gaps. We don’t often associate humility with leadership and yet, the most effective leaders are willing to admit they don’t know it all. They are continuously learning. What are the areas you need to develop to become the leader you want (and need) to be? Make a list, make a plan, set some goals – create a trail map for your leadership journey.
Take action / be an advocate. Back to the other half of this leadership development shared responsibility. Once you have your trail map in hand, leverage any leadership development offered by your organization. If none is offered, advocate for it. Leadership development comes in many forms, and the most effective programs are a combination of them. Learning is a process, not just an event.
In my leadership development work with organizations, I’ve seen the greatest benefits come from programs where we used a variety of components from the following: workshops, mentoring or coaching, assessments, stretch assignments to apply the learning, teach-back sessions conducted by participants, leadership forums, required reading, etc.
When the responsibility for leadership development is shared, with leaders driving their personal development and organizations providing the opportunities and resources for them to do so, everyone succeeds.
Till next time,
Eighty-four percent of organizations anticipate a shortfall of leaders in the next five years, according to a State of Leadership Development report by Brandon Hall. And a nearly equal number (83%) say that it’s important to develop leaders at all levels. Yet here’s the thing. Only 5% have actually implemented leadership development at all levels. In fact, the biggest chunk of money spent on leadership development goes toward senior leaders and executives, instead of to those who need it most – first time, frontline leaders. All too often these new leaders are put in a “sink or swim” situation, thrown into the deep end of leading a team and left to figure out for themselves how to stay afloat.
This is both unfair to the new leader and detrimental to the organization.
Most people are promoted into their first leadership role as a result of their high performance as an individual contributor and/or because of their technical skills. Yet what helped them succeed as an individual, will not necessarily contribute to their success as a people leader – where the challenges and responsibilities require a different set of skills. Without some sort of development opportunity early on in their transition from individual performer to leader, new leaders may simply mimic the behaviors of a leader they’ve had in the past, and not necessarily a good one. And those behaviors, once ingrained, are difficult to change.
A survey of HR leaders and practitioners conducted by the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found that “the sink or swim mindset toward new managers is ubiquitous.” In that survey, respondents were asked to rank the must-have skills for frontline managers in order of importance. Technical expertise was ranked as Number 7, preceded by:
- Ethics and integrity
- Communicates effectively
- Drives for results/motivation to succeed
- Develops effective teams
- Maintains relationships with internal stakeholders
While some of these skills might be inherent in a new leader, being able to apply them effectively while adapting to leading people – understanding individual strengths, motivators, skill gaps, personalities and how those individuals work together as a team, being accountable not just for their work but for the work of others – requires coaching and support. Not to mention the challenge that many internally promoted leaders face – transitioning from buddy to boss.
New leader training needs to be a key component of every organization’s learning and development plan. And it should not be just a one-day event around policies, performance reviews and disciplinary actions. It needs to be structured in a way that gives participants time to apply their learning, receive feedback, and get the ongoing support necessary (mentoring, coaching) to grow into the next line of senior leaders and executives.
Managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement. Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity.
One last startling factoid for you from that Brandon Hall Report: More money is spent on leadership development than any other area of corporate training, yet 71% of organizations do not feel their leaders are able to lead their organization into the future.
Doesn't it make sense to take the time to effectively develop leaders from the very beginning?
For more on this topic, check out my podcast: Sink or Swim is NOT Leadership Development.
Till next time,