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May - 2011 - issue > Management
There’s-no-Time-to-Develop-Your-Leader
Dave Millner
Friday, April 29, 2011
I often hear that managers just don’t have time for leadership development. They are either too busy dealing with an employee performance issue, getting ready for a new business critical project, negotiating a new deal with a supplier, changing the budget figures for the fifth time or getting ready for a visit from head office. Once they have finished that and things settle down, only then will they have time to focus on their own development or the development of their managers. By which time of course the next crisis will have hit their desk!

Actually, all of these high pressure, job related activities are part of an overall leadership development process though. Every new project, key interaction with another person or job change all has the potential to be developmental opportunities for leaders. As managers, we’re developing ourselves and others all the time - we just don’t recognise it! I appreciate that this sounds pretty haphazard and unfocused but nevertheless these are all situations in which we can all collectively learn a lot of lessons, and coach others on how to get through the situation. They just might not be the right ones for you!

So if we already have a leadership development system – wouldn’t it be worth our while to leverage this enormous cost? It’s not a matter of making an additional investment in leadership development – or adding more hours to our week – the investment has already been made – it’s a cost that is continually written off when it doesn’t need to be!

For your own development, the key is being able to understand what you need to develop and proactively putting yourself in situations where you can be exposed to situations that will help you to learn those new capabilities – it’s called self awareness and is one of the key building blocks for any successful leader. You probably tend to seek out those opportunities that you know more about, then you watch, listen, and take it all in. If you take the time to reflect on what you’ve learned and figure out the right lessons to adopt, you can be developing yourself almost every week without really trying! Successful leaders are always looking for new opportunities to stretch themselves and learn; they will inevitably not be afraid to ask a lot of questions, they aren’t intimidated by someone that knows more about something than they do, and they are constantly adapting their approach.

For developing others, you can be more structured in how you delegate, how you select and build a project team, who you spend time with during site visits and how you get other people in your team to communicate issues or run particular sessions on a topic. Remember that when one of your employees makes a mistake, it’s a development opportunity and likewise when one of your employees comes to you with a problem and are seeking your help and input, it’s a development opportunity.

What about leadership development programmes then? Attendance on these programmes doesn’t guarantee the required behaviour change or improved results as a leader. A willingness to new ideas and approaches is certainly important combined with a lot of hard work during the workshops , but once the programme ends, and participants all go their own ways and return to the real world, unfortunately, many of them will soon forget what they learned and soon revert back to old familiar habits. It also doesn’t help when their managers don’t follow up on the workshops!

So what separates those that attend leadership programmes and actually become better leaders and those that don’t? To ensure that you obtain a greater return on your leadership development investment, firstly, create an individual action sheet that summarises what you are going to do and how you are going to gauge its success. Note, I didn’t use the word ‘plan’ – that’s because a plan always stays a plan and never gets done! Then, write down what you are going to do and describe how you’re going to achieve your goals. Include what, how, who, and by when. There has been a significant amount of research that shows markedly higher levels of achievement of those that have written specific goals versus those that didn’t, or those who had vaguely written goals.

Next, find a colleague who will review every 30 days what has and has not been done, and also share your intended actions with your team. Making your commitment public always provides the extra motivation as well as a support system to keep at it when the going gets tough. Finally, continuously ask for feedback from others on how you are doing. Leaders’ performance and improved capability has been seen to improve when formal assessments have been made. Whatever you do, keep it simple, focused and anchored in the business.

A senior executive once told me that he tried very hard to spend about 70 percent of his time developing others. It always struck me that irrespective of how successful he was in spending that amount of time, he had clearly appreciated the importance of his role as a leader being a focal point for developing others. I have to be honest, this isn’t something that I hear very often, but the opportunities are all around us. We need to take advantage of these opportunities and turn them into powerful development opportunities- do it for yourself, even if you don’t want to do it for your organisation.

The author is Consulting Director, Kenexa
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