Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The importance of developing effective leaders.

Post 450 - President Obama's recent interventions to push the healthcare legislation forward has caused me to pause and reflect anew on the power and the processes of leadership. I was reminded that conflict and disagreement are inevitable, specially when contemplating significant change. And this is usually a good thing - you actually don’t want total buy-in. The only way you’ll get total buy-in is if people think they're not going to have to change their behavior.

When you're running a business, conflict, like any other key business process, has to be managed. You can do this in three ways:

- Acknowledge its importance. Don’t worry if people are upset with each other – they’re supposed to be. That’s what generates new ideas and that's what it’s like to manage change.

- Don’t tolerate personal attacks. There are protocols for the expression of honest disagreement. Teach them and enforce them.

- Provide support by having trained coaches and facilitators available. Encourage people to ask for help: “We’re planning a meeting and we think it could get hairy. Let’s get a good facilitator to design an appropriate process and lead us through it.”

However, always remember you can never sell the soft stuff on its own merits. You have to make the connection to the company’s bottom line.

When you’re developing effective leaders, you’re likely to encounter three pitfalls:

- Pitfall number one: High achievers tend to be mavericks. They’re not patient people. Americans measure and reward individuality. We under-use group measures just as the Japanese over-use them. It’s important to understand that achievers didn’t necessarily get where they are by being patient, by being good team players, by being great listeners.

- Pitfall number two is not having tests to ensure that the people who get to the top can manage in a collaborative way. Make sure that even if people make their numbers, they‘re not going to get promoted unless they have the right values for the culture you want to promote. Here, it’s important to evaluate people using 360-degree appraisals because colleagues usually know a lot about each other, but seldom get a chance to tell.

- Pitfall number three is when senior executives ask those around them to “be like me.” People tend to gravitate to those they feel comfortable with. Philip Wrigley, the longtime owner of the Chicago Cubs, once said that when two people in a business always agree, one of them is unnecessary. Rather than looking for people who will always agree, you have to look for what the situation requires. General Patton may have been a very good choice for storming Berlin, but maybe the person you need by your side on a daily basis isn’t a General Patton. Rather, it’s someone who can make sure the troops are supported and the supplies keep coming.

Although there are fewer managers in today’s downsized world, the importance of leadership never goes away. The old, elitist perspective reserves leadership development for those at or near the top. If managers continue to think in this outmoded way, the people who can really move the business forward won’t have been taught the skills they need to do so.

No comments: