Article: Train your leaders

How do we think about leadership?

Your leaders may not yet be managers … and sadly, some of your managers don’t yet lead … Does this sound familiar?

The way an organisation develops its leaders and managers directly affects its success.

Some split the concepts of leader and manager, as though they were two completely different ideas. But I believe in seeing those skills as a spectrum, a toolkit of different styles for different people and situations that the leader/manager can go to whenever they need to.

There’s a common misconception that ‘leadership skills are natural and inborn – you either have them or you don’t … ‘

Then there’s the ‘let’s promote, and because they were good at their old job they should be naturally good at leading others’ mindset …

And how about the ‘you have a go and we’ll see where you went wrong, that’s the best way to learn’ … approach? Great way to set up a vicious learning cycle.

So many organisations promote people into a new role without training them first – or at all.

It’s vital to remember that we’re learning beings – as long as our health allows we learn all our lives, and we can learn, practice and develop leadership skills. To achieve that skillset, training’s vital, and it’s just as important to be able to practice, discuss and share essential feedback in the workplace to embed that learning.

So what barriers and blocks get in the way?

In public, private and third sectors alike, doing more with less is a constant challenge. Organisations are battling a lack of resources and the perceived cost of training can put it firmly in the ‘nice but not essential’ file.

Downsizing is a fact of life now, and there just aren’t the number of people there used to be in many organisations. Letting those people move away from business as usual, to sit in a classroom and not contribute to the bottom line, can be a battle.

And there’s the often-voiced fear ‘What if we develop them – and they leave?’

Well, what if you don’t – and they stay?

Where’s the evidence?

In Spring 2015 CIPD’s People Management magazine surveyed 300 HR and L&D professionals to find out what they really think about line management and leadership in their organisations

  • 66% reported a failure to recognise employee achievement.
  • 69% reported that managers and leaders were simply too busy to support employees.
  • 74% reported that managers and leaders were not developing their teams.

Those keywords recognise …. support … develop … show that British organisations are failing to address the way they train their leaders from the start. And if they can’t do that, how can their leaders even begin to support and develop their most essential assets – their people?

What happens if you don’t develop your leaders?

Key problem areas can escalate:

Habits of not engaging, listening or communicating, evading the difficult conversation and shying away from the challenging message mean the message just doesn’t get across.

Dated ‘tell not sell’, ‘do as I say not as I do’ attitudes promote a lack of credibility.

Hyper-critical negative behaviour, catching people doing wrong rather than praising doing right and micro-managing without developing means that people just don’t feel trusted or appreciated.

A culture of resentment and fear, not understanding why things need to change or be done a certain way, can then mean that skills fade, people stagnate and the best people leave for better prospects.

Mistakes repeat, poor performance continues and the organisation falls behind competition.

Reputation and image suffer and the organisation can’t attract great new people.

This is a clear message – all organisations need a firm grasp of how to develop their people, and that starts with their leaders.

What are those skillset essentials?

My own training as a manager with the UK Border Agency, and the leadership development programme I delivered for the Financial Ombudsman Service proved to me the vital importance of leadership training:

  • Understanding the vision, the mission, the goals
  • Being seen and heard to live the values
  • Having a clear grasp of the business plan, the bottom line
  • Being able to set SMART objectives
  • Building training, coaching and public speaking skills
  • Developing the confidence to delegate
  • Growing the ability to hold confident 1-1s and the difficult conversation and to give honest, respectful and constructive feedback

Are just a few vital leadership skills – and these and more can be trained.

Who benefits from leadership training – and how?

First, your aspiring, new and established leaders themselves. Time to sharpen the saw with personal continuing professional development as they develop that practical toolkit of real skills for the real world.

Your teams and their people benefit as they feel invested in and supported.

The public and the customer benefit from great customer service from staff with a clear confident vision of what they need to do to do their jobs well.

The organisation benefits – people clearly communicate and understand its visions and goals, follow the business plan and create the culture you want, so press and public image improve.

The legacy of great leadership training takes us into the future, as the people you develop start to develop others, succession planning for the next generation when we’re gone.

How do we put it into practice?

Is it time for your business to be proactive, seeking out and nurturing that spark of talent in advance?

I champion Leadership training – it’s vital for any business to flourish. I deliver a great leadership development programme of practical classroom workshops and masterclasses, action learning sets, on the job coaching, mentoring and peer group networks – a real learning blend.

Then it’s up to the organisation to start putting that new knowledge, those new skills and attitudes into practice in their day to day work before they’re even given a team, proving themselves and creating their new professional brand in advance so they’re ready to step up when you need them.

Related article: Three great leadership traits

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