So, let's consider the leader. It's been said leaders are born and not made, suggesting that one either has “it” naturally or not. It has also been said that one's environment and opportunities are what determine leadership potential, not so much innate or natural abilities. Regardless of the perspective, my experience suggests that any degree of one's leadership potential doesn't become realized or grown without an investment of time and attention from others.
As leaders, we really do have an important responsibility to mentor and develop others, but often, the demands of our roles fully capture our attention on the planning and execution of the work at hand. As the days become weeks, months and years, we often look back and recognize lost opportunities that could have made a difference in the lives and careers of those we lead. Therefore, it is vital to recognize that successfully developing leaders has to be an active priority, not only for the executive or manager but also his or her organization. It requires focus and willful action, along with an organizational culture that values and expects leadership development to occur.
Throughout our education and career, we've all studied an abundance of material, and have attended numerous seminars and education sessions targeted at this core element of leadership. There are likely thousands of sources that can be tapped for relevant information that, if appropriately considered and applied, can yield positive results in the development of leaders. However, in parallel with the academic science of developing leaders, my experience has been that real progress is ultimately enabled by day-to-day, real-time interactions. Here are five practical considerations for leadership development.
- Understand the organization's plans and priorities for developing leaders. Progressive organizations will likely have established programs and defined expectations for leadership development. Working against or in ignorance of these important cultural and procedural policies/guidelines can quickly result in significant frustration or even disastrous outcomes for all involved, both in the short and long term. A recommended and appropriate first step of action is to contact the organization development team or human resources leadership in order to express goals and objectives as well as notification of the individual(s) involved.
- Make intentions known to the individual and executive colleagues. Leaders need to know that their organization is interested in professional growth and development. Doing so involves a private conversation during which the organization's leadership development program and polices are explained along with specific expectations of those involved. This communication and associated actions may be incorporated into an established performance review process, but the individual must understand that an increased level of focus on performance and engagement of his/her management (and others) will occur. In all walks of leadership, it is important to set and manage expectations. The development of leaders is no different—the individual and his/her management (and others) need to understand intentions, expectations and desired outcomes.
- Identify specific areas of development and define success. Regardless of context or environment, any initiative or endeavor aimed at positive change requires upfront identification of what is to be improved along with what is to be achieved. Makes sense, right? So then, how is it that individuals as well as organizations of all types and sizes often pursue action without first defining and understanding these foundational directives? There are often many factors involved, but there is a natural inclination to pursue a quick “fix” rather than to plan and execute incremental change. Leadership development, like any other change initiative, is not an effort to “fix” a person's behavior—it amounts to “changing” it over time and requires that all involved understand what aspects of one's abilities are to be addressed and what specific outcomes will be achieved.
- Be visible and present more as a coach rather than a boss. Leadership development requires the establishment and maintenance of a new level of relationship between the individual and the management. The workplace environment and interactions between the parties must transition to be more personal and trusting, and at times tougher on both, requiring much more time and effort. Although the established reporting structure between the two (and possibly others) does not change, the individual's manager/executive must become even more of an “on the field” coach, rather than a boss or a judge of performance. The individual will surely grow through experience, but the closer relationship with management will invoke new levels of input, counseling, advice and feedback. Regardless of the tough lessons learned along with the normal ups and downs of growth, the coach must always be there in ways to strengthen the individual's confidence and learning.
- Provide candid and real-time feedback. A common failure of most individual performance reviews as well as leadership development programs is the lack of ongoing, appropriate and timely feedback. There is likely nothing that can more retard development progress than for the person to experience an inadequate level of communication from management. Learning of one's performance challenges or missteps only at annual review time or at a point far too long after-the-fact can severely impede learning and growth. Doing so also sends a message that the individual's management really does not care enough to provide the appropriate feedback at the right time. Candid and real-time feedback are essential for sustained performance improvement, but it must be provided in the appropriate fashion and setting. Individuals are never to be embarrassed in the presence of others because that will erode trust and confidence in the management relationship.
As leaders, we develop and grow over time, hopefully in large part as a result of the engagement and tutelage of others who are concerned with our professional and personal well-being. Those who have had an effective leadership development experience would surely recommend the same for others. And yet many times, individuals sadly are left on their own to learn and develop as leaders without important guidance from others. But, if as leaders we acknowledge the value of developing others, we should take good care to ensure a solid approach that incorporates practical considerations that can truly make all the difference.
Vice president and chief information officer
Orlando (Fla.) Health