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Running leadership development for the top % in your organization should be extinct!

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

We live in an era where businesses have been and are still getting increasingly large, interconnected and complex. #COVID19 has magnified this and introduced new challenges that are accelerating transformation in many industries and organizations. As a consequence, the nature of the business, operations and people issues have become increasingly complex. Successful organizations flourish in spite of #VUCA because of effective leadership that happens at various levels not just at the most senior levels. Increasingly too, organizations are cognizant that being a leader should not arise only because of your title or tenure but may also arise because of the circumstances you are in. This may be seen in “The Rise of the Individual in the New World of Work.“

Being a leader is challenging (whether it comes with the title or not). This may come more naturally for some and not for others. Regardless, it is a demanding hat to wear that requires you to work on building a different set of skills and being able to inspire passion so that team members are engaged and want to keep contributing through shared leadership. It is or it should be clear that leadership is not a trait that can be taught in a classroom following the usual educational pedagogy. Leadership development is a journey that you must choose to embark on. To some extent, this requires you to embrace a test and learn as well as a think big, start small, learn fast mindset. As we live in a world of hashtags and labels, this may be expressed as a person’s "learning agility". This same mindset should also be alive and part of an organization’s culture and such an organization may be termed as an “agile organization”. The leadership style described above may be labelled as “transformational leadership”.

Considering the various labels and terms, my preferred view is one of shared leadership that could be explained as:

  • Ensuring a safe space for each member to communicate authentically and constructively regardless of the issue or from whom it may arise.

  • Enabling each team member to lead from their seat so that they can make a difference individually and collectively.

  • Embracing a think big, start small, learn fast mindset.

  • Enabling each team member to authentically hold another team member as well as themselves accountable for the outcomes they are committed to.

  • The team being outcome-focused yet issues aware.

Therefore, whatever label, term or hashtag you may prefer, leadership development and shared leadership is about providing every individual with the choice, space, opportunity and framework to embark on this journey. Logically too, leadership development should not be viewed only in the context of succession planning or business continuity, reserved for those earmarked to take on senior leadership roles. It should be viewed as essential to elevate the general standards of leadership throughout the organization so as to impact business outcomes on a larger scale.

In day to day terms, what this could translate to regardless of whether it is in a functional, cross-functional or project team are:

1. Respect each individual through shared behaviours and values

It is important to build person to person as well as team engagement. As a starting point, it is useful to define and agree on behaviours that are clear, tangible and observable. The business outcome is important and so is how the team gets there together. This moves individuals and the team away from the pitfalls of the hero syndrome in the workplace as well as towards doing the right thing. Through agreed behaviours, each team member has a clear platform and mandate to hold one other accountable (regardless of role) not just for achieving the business outcomes but also for behaviours that do not work at a team level.

2. Embrace divergent thinking as part of the process

It is extremely easy for most of us to move into convergent thinking vs divergent thinking. However, having empathy includes being able to embrace and allow for divergent thinking. This recognizes that over and above enabling different ideas or point of views to surface and be heard, no one team member has a monopoly on coming up with great ideas and solutions. Each person’s view should be heard, considered and actioned. This is not confined to just views relating to decisions and outcomes but also self-improvement feedback that can contribute to the individual's as well as the team’s success.

3. Embody self-care not as an activity but as a value to build resilience

We have established that we live in a world of #VUCA and that the workplace has gotten more complex. Resilience is a rising star hashtag. Yet, we tend to perceive self-care and enabling team members to practice self-care as an isolated activity that needs to be scheduled into our day or week. Meditation, yoga, gym classes for some or drinks, a night out on the dance floor for others, whatever your inclination, the list goes on for kilometres. Moreover, for most, this would also be part of the good-to-do instead of the must-do priority list in the course of the work-week. It is imperative that we view self-care, not as an isolated activity but as part of our day-to-day, moment to moment interactions. Self-care should permeate into the way we:

  • interact and communicate with each other so that it's also about multiple perspectives;

  • schedule meetings so that they are not back to back;

  • set expectations and deadlines that are realistic and, as much as possible, take into consideration the unpredictable;

  • enrol others when dealing with unexpected or red flag situations;

  • acknowledge that team members have other roles they play in the organization and in life.

Leadership development is a transformational and not an educational journey. It should, therefore, be a platform that in some form or shape is accessible to everyone in the organization. We need to stop reciting the mantra that people matter and your voice is important, yet have a narrow view of leadership in the workplace and in fact, in society at large.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Mahatma Gandhi

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