There’s something reassuring about knowing you’re not alone in dealing with the challenge of developing strong leadership – especially if others’ experiences help you find solutions to your own problems.
That’s why we’re so fascinated by what’s going on in other companies. And it’s why we turn to magazines, conferences and mentors to learn from those whose strong leadership we admire.
That is the precise reason why I love sharing the lessons I have learned with others in the hope that it will help them. In particular, I want to highlight the mistakes I and others have made when trying to develop strong leadership in fast-growing organisations.
The following 6 mistakes are ones that can really devastate your company. So, if you’re struggling with developing strong leaders and strong leadership teams, check them out.
6 Leadership Development Mistakes
Mistake No. 1. They don’t invest enough time and money in developing their leaders
When you’re growing a technology company, your priority is having the technical skills to deliver for the client. So that’s what companies focus on. They don’t think about leadership skills. But that’s a mistake. To grow a successful company, you need leadership throughout the organisation. Even if employees don’t manage others they need the leadership skills to lead themselves, lead projects, influence the client and help lead the growth and development of their area of the business.
Recommendation: Recruit and develop leadership skills and potential at every level in the organisation
Mistake No. 2. They don’t take a long-term view when defining leadership
Fast-growing high-tech companies are busy. And they are so busy focusing on the here and now that they struggle to get away from the day-to-day tasks and concentrate on the big picture and strategy for future growth. But leadership isn’t about the here and now. Leadership is about the future. And the company needs leaders who can take them there. A big mistake is to think that leadership is the same no matter what and take a one-size fit all approach that overlooks context. Leadership needs to be defined for the company vision. The leadership skills you need will differ according to the strategy and stage of growth.
Recommendation: Develop a clear picture of future success for the organisation then define the leadership skills you will need to make that vision a reality
Mistake No. 3. They give people leadership roles because they’re the best techies
There is a classic mistake summed up by a management idea called The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle describes when selection for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. And that is all too often the case in high-tech companies. The people who have performed best in technical front-line roles will be promoted into leadership roles as the company grows. But the skills needed for leadership are different from the skills they needed in their technical roles. Without development and support, there is a high likelihood they won’t be up to the new role.
Recommendation: Assess future leaders for their leadership potential. Provide training and development for all aspiring leaders so they develop the skills, experience and confidence to lead effectively.
Mistake No. 4. They try to develop their leaders by sending them on generic training courses
I have nothing against executive education. After all my husband works for a management school. But the mistake many companies make is thinking that leadership development is all about education in the classroom and nothing else. Adults only remember 10% of what they hear in a lecture style setting versus two-thirds when they learn by doing. Leadership isn’t about what people know and think. It’s about what they do and say. So leadership development must be designed around real work challenges so it has real business impact.
Recommendation: Build leadership development around real work challenges while creating opportunities for learning and reflection.
Mistake No. 5. They see leadership development as a one-off event
In too many cases leadership development centres on single events. In truth, underdeveloped leadership skills and behaviours are a bit like underused muscles. To develop them, one must actively and continually work on them, through various development experiences with each one re-enforcing and building on the last. This means putting potential leaders in positions that stretch them, and continually coaching and supporting leaders so they can build their abilities as rapidly as possible.
Recommendation: Combine several experiences that develop leadership behaviours in the workplace on a daily, weekly and monthly basis
Mistake No. 6. They don’t build the routines and processes needed to enable the desired leadership behaviours
All too often I see a disconnect between the leadership behaviours a company says it wants to develop and the organisational routines, processes and systems that are the norms. Take for example the company who says they want their leaders to develop their people but then gives them personal targets that mean they have no time to focus on anything other than sales and delivery. Or the company that wants to develop a culture of collaboration but rewards employees individually and so encourages competition, not collaboration. People will only change their behaviour if they gain something positive from doing so.
Recommendation: Design HR processes to encourage and reinforce the leadership behaviours you desire.
Look through these six mistakes and really think about whether your company is making any of them.
Answer these questions:
1 Which mistakes are we NOT making? How can we build on that and do more of what works?
2 Which mistakes ARE we making? What impact is that having? What can we do to address any problems?
If it would be helpful, download Six Painful Mistakes that Stop You Developing Strong Leadership as a PDF so you can discuss them with your colleagues.
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