As I travel around the country speaking at corporate functions, association meetings and conferences, the most requested topics continue to revolve around the subject of leadership. With the world becoming more competitive and more diverse, the focus on leadership understandably appears to be greater than in years past.
There are few things more damaging to a company than taking a group of talented employees and having them report to an ineffective leader. Doing so negatively impacts employee engagement, morale and retention.
I would like to share a few ideas that can help you create an environment for developing more effective leaders in your organization.
Too often, companies use the words “leader” and “manager” interchangeably. When doing that, they ignore the fact that there is a difference between a manager and a leader. When discussing leadership, we should be talking about what it means to be an effective leader. It sounds like a subtle difference, but not differentiating it can have huge negative implications on a business.
Companies obviously prefer for their managers/supervisors to be great leaders, but they must first understand that great leadership is about influence, not authority. When companies fail to recognize this difference, the default is to help people become better managers. The majority of training and support is centered around helping a person become better at completing their assigned tasks. Sometimes there is additional training that helps with communication and teamwork, but not always.
Once an individual becomes successful at their assigned role, the thinking is that they can take on responsibilities like managing or supervising others. The result? Sometimes you get a new manager who is an effective leader, which is great, but other times you don’t, which can be counterproductive. Think about how many times you have heard an organization say something to the effect of “They were great in an individual role, but they are not a good manager.” One bad leader in a managerial role can chase away quality talent, as well as clients.
If a company is truly concerned about creating an environment for developing great leaders, they should have a slightly different approach and a broader focus. Their goal should shift to developing more well-rounded employees who can be productive and interact well with others in an ever-changing environment. Other areas of development become equally as important as having a solid technical or functional skill set.
For example, employees should spend time learning how to become more self-aware, empathetic and motivational. Great leaders are genuinely concerned about those with whom they work, which is why people want to follow them voluntarily. No company can ever have too many employees with great leadership qualities, even if they can’t place them all in official leadership positions.
Since companies are continuously strategizing on how to become more competitive, productive and efficient, they are always looking for quality talent to help with those efforts. Having effective leaders who can energize and motivate others to work together to achieve common goals is essential for overall company success.
So it is no surprise to see companies investing time and resources in leadership training and development, which is great, but only if companies have set up an environment that recognizes that great leadership is about influence, not authority. This means instead of promoting professionals just because they are experienced and successful at completing their tasks, you should promote them because of their ability to teach, inspire and empower other employees, which results in increased engagement and productivity. Employees want to overachieve when they are working with great leaders.
Donald Hatter is a best-selling author, speaker and expert on teaching professionals and businesses how to maximize their influence.