The starting point for accelerating leadership development is to focus on leadership skills for rapid growth. In other words, the key leadership skills and behaviours that will really make a difference to performance and help you realise your vision. I emphasise behaviours because you need to focus on observable actions that will deliver business results.
So what are the key skills that future leaders of high-growth, high-change organisation need to learn to improve their effectiveness in the face of ever increasing complexity?
Here are 2 quick ways you can identify them:
1. Defining Specific Leadership Skills
In an ideal world, you should define the specific leadership skills that your organisation needs to be successful, given its business goals.
Defining the desired leadership skills and behaviours is a creative process which can be challenging for even the most strategic of thinkers. One cost-effective and time-efficient way of doing that is to hold a facilitated strategy session with the key stakeholders. There are a variety of methods that can help. One way is to use a tool called the ‘Future Perfect’, drawn from an approach called ‘Solutions Focus’.
‘Future Perfect’ involves projecting oneself into a future when the organisation is fully implementing its strategy and delivering results. Key stakeholders are asked to describe what the leadership culture looks like in that future. What behaviours are they observing? What are the signs and indicators that there is a strong leadership culture within the organisation? What positive comments are employees, customers and other stakeholders making about leadership in general? What processes are in place to reinforce the positive leadership behaviours? What behaviours are called out as indicative of good leadership and rewarded accordingly?
It may sound a bit crazy as an approach because it is not typical of the discussions we have in business. But believe me, it works well. It is unfailing in its ability to energise key stakeholders and gain their commitment to a shared picture of success.
I cannot emphasise this enough: it’s really important to develop a definition of leadership that is specific to your organisation and your strategy. It always amazes me when companies ask for an off-the-shelf leadership framework. Since leaders are key competitive advantages, why would anyone want to develop them to be exactly the same as everyone else’s leaders?
But I do understand the challenge of defining leadership starting with a blank sheet of paper.
2. Using Generic Leadership Skills
Sometimes it can be helpful to start with a generic set of leadership skills and behaviours, then you select the ones that will be most important for delivering your strategy, rephrasing them so they sound like your company. Don’t talk about ‘show initiative’ if the words your leaders use are ‘step up to the mark’.
So where can you find a generic set of leadership capabilities that contribute to the success of high-growth companies? One source of such knowledge is India.
Key Leadership Skills for Rapid Growth
In India, many homegrown businesses are seeking to double, triple and quadruple their revenues over the next decade, if not sooner. Companies have begun to show great interest in investing in leadership development.
So what can we learn from their experience? How does it apply to us in the Western world?
In 2008 the Tata Management Training Center (TMTC) and the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL-Asia) published a report called ‘Developing Future Leaders for High-Growth Indian Companies’.
This report summarised their research with seventy-one executives from eight high-growth global Indian companies, detailing four general areas of capability:
Leading self: skills and behaviours related to the inner world of leaders and effective ways to manage themselves – their thoughts, emotions, actions, and attitudes – over time. Specific lessons include confidence; self-awareness; understanding and committing to life goals; and integrity – i.e., the essentials of self-management.
Leading others: behaviours related to the interpersonal and social skills that equip leaders to connect with and influence people. Specific lessons include managing and motivating subordinates; developing subordinates; and team management/development – i.e., the essentials of relationship management.
Leading the business: skills and behaviours related to the world of running a business and facilitating the accomplishment of work in organisations. Specific lessons include execution and operational management; innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship; functional knowledge; and gathering information, knowledge, and insight – i.e., the essentials of managing a unit, department, or the organisation.
Meaning of leadership: skills and behaviours related to reflecting on experience. These lessons are distilled from years of experience, resulting in a leader’s personal formula for successfully leading self, others, and the business.
A summary of the lessons learned is shown below:
Are the leadership capabilities any different from those we would expect in a high growth organisation? Probably not. Can you pick them up and use them for your organisation? Definitely not. But they provide a helpful framework, serving as a starting point for identifying the leadership capabilities for your own business strategy.
Note: This post is based on and adapted from my book Grow Your Geeks – A Handbook for Developing Leaders in Fast-Growing, High-Tech Companies. You can download a free chapter by clicking here.