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Looking for leadership? Try growing your own

Great leadership is business critical if you want to to attract, engage and retain top talent. Yet leadership isn’t just about the inspirational CEO – it’s about all levels of the organisation.
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People expect and have a right to good leadership; they demand it and will go elsewhere if they don’t get it. With today’s fast and furious information flow and hyper-connectivity, weak leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to hide behind their status.

Some companies assume that people automatically know how to lead as soon as they are promoted to a management position – such misplaced assumptions can have catastrophic effects on employee engagement, morale, performance, productivity and retention.

There’s often a cascade effect – great leadership breeds great leaders and the reverse also applies; so the good stuff has to start from the top. Developing leaders is a continuous process; what makes a great leader will vary from organisation to organisation and culture to culture.

And, while the introduction of “new blood” or specialist skills from outside is often essential; the majority of your leaders should come from inside, in order to keep your culture strong and consistent.

A good place to start is to define your leadership principles. This doesn’t have to be a complicated exercise, it’s about sitting down and agreeing “how leadership is done around here”. From this, leadership behaviours and attitudinal traits can be identified, which then form the basis of how leaders are recruited, identified, measured and developed.

This is why leadership development must be tailored to the organisation rather than relying on standard templates based on a set of principles that may well have been written well before the age of technology and business as we know it today. There’s lots of relevant information out there to draw from.

The skill is in applying only that which fits the organisation and taking a facilitative, collaborative approach to developing leaders rather than telling them “how to”.

Next you need to decide who to develop. It’s not necessarily about the ones who have the highest profile or who are doing the best job technically. It’s about providing opportunities for everyone to learn and demonstrate your leadership principles within their day-to-day work.

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It’s also about having a way to identify who is consistently doing this well. Who is performing over and above the requirements of their role? Who is driven to learn and progress?

For this to happen, you’ll need to digitise performance reviews and succession planning to provide an objective and consistent way of identifying who’s ready, willing and capable.

Many companies still expect existing leaders to choose their successors. The danger with this is that potentially great leaders can be passed over in favour of others who are perhaps more vocal or better connected. Far better to do it against a set of agreed criteria and to test the outcomes as you go.

An example of a company effectively growing its own leaders is Lexington Catering. Lexington digitised its talent management back in 2005 and has a good track record of identifying, assessing and developing leaders of the future, using a set of clearly defined leadership behaviours.

Two years ago the company formalised the development of these leaders by introducing an “Aspiring Leadership Programme”. Lexington is serious about creating an environment where all talented people can flourish and, to date, the business has identified and developed 14 aspiring leaders, ten of whom have progressed into new roles.

The Aspiring Leadership Programme has had some tremendous results, benefiting
the business in a number of ways, including providing a solid succession pipeline that
is effectively supporting the business as it grows.

Lexington is proof that nurturing talent from the inside is critical for the creation and
development of great leaders. And growing your own rather than picking leaders
from other organisations will ensure the leaders are right for YOUR business, after
all, no one knows your business as well as your own people!

Jane Sunley is a business author and founder of employee engagement and technology specialist Purple Cubed. Her latest book – The People Formula: 12 steps to productive, profitable and performing business – is out now.

Running a business means that your mind is often working at 100mph, so it’s no surprise that certain things can be neglected – here’s how you can ramp up your leadership skills in ten steps.

Image: Shutterstock

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