Developing True Leaders at All Levels

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Developing True Leaders at Every Level
Heavily based on Maher’s highly acclaimed work in GE, as explained in the book The Leadership Pipeline (Ram Charan et al). And further validated in the course of our consulting/experiences in more than a dozen firms. “Leadership: getting people to do what you want them to do, because they start wanting to do it.” “Leadership is the art of getting ordinary people to deliver extraordinary results.” How many of our middle managers can claim this level of leadership? Often, Indian companies have stalwarts at the CEO/CXO level, but then suddenly face a ‘talent cliff’. But Leaders – who take full ownership of business results and do not fail to meet targets, aggressively improve processes, build strong relationships and networks, inspire others, coach and mentor juniors, and finally help their unit scale new heights – are needed at every level. Unfortunately, many companies keep lamenting on the lack of such a Leadership Pipeline at every level. And many careers hit a glass ceiling – employees who performed well at junior levels are unable to deliver equally stellar results as their span of control increased. Employees complain they are working even harder but not being appreciated by management, while management is frustrated that the employee is not living up to the increased expectations at the new level. Why does this ‘Leadership Deficiency’ happen? First, the Development of Leadership per se is generally not considered as critical as, say, business strategy or managing operations. Hence, jobs/projects are taken as ‘work to be done’ rather than development assignments. Unfortunately, even our education system (including MBA) assumes that students will learn managerial/leadership skills with time rather than training them on the same along with the academic curriculum. Second, while promoting managers, main focus is usually on personal traits (professionalism, loyalty to company) and technical competence, instead of ‘future potential’. The assumption we often make is that past performance is usually an accurate measure of likely performance at the next level too. However, performance and potential are two very different things – incentives may be given for good performance, but promotion should only be given if potential for the next level is clearly seen. Third, most companies hardly have any defined yardstick to measure leadership (unlike, say GAAP, in accounting) even though much of it is eminently measurable and indeed can provide a competitive advantage. In absence of a rigorous assessment of leadership, often senior managers who are themselves weak in some leadership traits (even though brilliant in others) end up promoting managers who also lack those skills, and the malaise becomes worse. The result of this is disaster. Fully 75% of the reason work isn’t done (or performance is below par) can be attributed to the leader:  The job and the goals aren’t clearly defined. Frequent mismatches, duplications, missing links.  The boss fails to coach because he’s too busy, often doing work that the subordinate could do.  The boss hired/promoted the wrong person with ‘missing’ skills.  The boss is unable to inspire and motivate his team, or fails to create meaningful roles, resulting in high attrition and poor morale. In contrast, researchers have found that successful managers learnt new skills as they moved up, changed their perspective on what was important and reprioritized where to spend time. Maher’s theory highlights distinct levels of Leadership, each requiring new set of skills and priorities.

EXHIBIT Leadership Development: Stages of Skill Development… New roles will require new skills and new priorities Stage
Description

Managing Oneself
Individual Contributor

Managing Others
First time Manager

Managing Managers
General Manager of a Function

Functional Manager

Business Manager

Group Manager - Enterprise Manager

Head of Function (Vice President...
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