4 Building Blocks of Leadership Development in a Company

AdVance Leadership » 4 Building Blocks of Leadership Development in a Company

Welcome to Friday 411, issue #015. In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you’ll discover 4 ways that your company can develop the leaders you need to succeed in the future.

1 Insight

Most companies know that they need to develop leaders but don’t know where to get started. Four Building Blocks will help you increase the quality and quantity of leaders.

Companies across the world are experiencing a leadership shortfall.

  • They don’t have enough leaders. 84% of companies expect a leadership shortfall in the next 5 years.
  • They don’t have leaders who can accomplish big goals. Only 18% of organizations say their leaders are “very effective” at meeting business goals.
  • They don’t have a pipeline of future leaders. Only 19% of companies believe they are very effective at developing leaders.

To make matters worse, 83% of companies say that it’s important to develop leaders at all levels. Yet only 5% have fully implemented development at all levels.
Executives know that they need to develop more leaders. In fact, 58% of organizations say that their top priority is “closing leadership skills gaps.” But few executives know where to get started. They make several common mistakes:

  • Ignoring leadership development internally and hoping that hiring external candidates will fix everything
  • Leaving leadership development up to each individual, believing that leaders will eventually emerge
  • Assigning leadership books or articles without any context or follow-through
  • Hiring professional presenters to give a 1-hour motivational talk that costs big bucks with little results

Here is the harsh reality. If you aren’t intentional and strategic in leadership development, leaders rarely emerge. You won’t develop more leaders, nor will you develop better leaders.
Instead of hoping leaders will magically emerge, use 4 building blocks to develop more and better leaders at your company.

Building Block #1: Define “leader.”

Socrates said, “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” Everyone uses the term “leader,” assuming that everyone else shares their definition. In some of the workshops we lead, we ask participants to define a “sales leader.” Inevitably, we get three different answers:

  1. Someone who oversees a team of salespeople
  2. The salesperson who has the most sales
  3. A subject matter expert who trains others how to sell more effectively

It’s critical to define leadership for your company. If everyone doesn’t agree on what leadership is, no one will recognize it in themselves or others.
Imagine you’re hiring for a new management position. You realize that you need someone who can bring a team together to accomplish lofty goals. You have two candidates. One of those candidates has twenty-five years of experience in the field. The other candidate only has two years of experience. A typical hiring philosophy says to hire the person with more experience. But you need a leader, not simply an expert. How will you know which one is better if you don’t have a clear understanding of what a leader is?
Here is how we define a leader at AdVance Leadership:

A leader is someone who sees a clear, preferred, and desired future, gathers others around that future, and mobilizes others to create that future.

In other words, a leader is someone who (1) focuses on the future; (2) develops a clear vision; (3) influences others toward that vision; and (4) gets people to turn that vision into reality.
You are welcome to use our definition or come up with your own. What is most important is for your organization to agree on the definition and use it. When you define what a leader is, it’s easier to see it in others.

Building Block 2: Describe the traits of a leader at your company.

Leadership is context specific. Leadership in one company doesn’t always translate to another company. Each organization has its own ethos of what great leaders look like.
Get specific on 3-10 traits or characteristics required for someone to lead in your company. For example, Mark Miller’s book The Secret outlines the 5 Traits of every leader at Chick-fil-A, using the acronym SERVE:

  1. See and Shape the Future
  2. Engage and Develop Others
  3. Reinvent Continuously
  4. Value Relationships and Results
  5. Embody the Values

There are two reasons for identifying leadership characteristics that are unique to your company:

  1. It helps you identify future leaders. You can look for these traits in your current employees to recognize future leaders.
  2. It helps you develop current and future leaders. Knowing these traits is important to helping leaders grow using Leadership Pathways (Building Block #4).

At AdVance Leadership, we’ve identified 7 traits that solve 95% of leadership challenges:

  1. Character
  2. Competence
  3. Capacity
  4. Clarity
  5. Community
  6. Culture
  7. Consistency

Building Block #3: Enable leadership conversations.

You’ve heard leaders say that “it’s lonely at the top.” Many leaders never challenge that statement. The reality is that leadership is lonely only when you expect and accept the loneliness. Companies that develop great leaders help their leaders connect to other leaders.
Leaders face unique challenges and obstacles.

  • Your decisions affect hundreds — if not thousands — of other people.
  • You’re concerned with your own performance as well as everyone else’s.
  • You must consider long-term goals as well as short-term profitability.
  • You want what’s best for both the company and each individual in the company.

Those unique challenges require that companies create opportunities for leaders to talk. For example, one of our clients brings groups of 10 leaders together once per month virtually. For an hour, they share their biggest wins and challenges. They coach each other and make suggestions. These meetings remove the loneliness of leadership. They allow people to talk openly about the difficulty of leadership. And they accelerate the speed of problem-solving.

Building Block 4: Create Leadership Pathways, not programs.

Leadership programs are a dime a dozen. But they’re much more expensive than one dime.
One of our clients told me his company spent almost $100,000 on a one-day training. They brought in a speaker who charged $25,000. They flew in dozens of leaders from all over the country and purchased hotel rooms, meals, and rental cars. They spent eight hours talking about having hard conversations with difficult people.
One year later, we started working with this client. I asked him what results he saw from the six-figure training. He shared that they had no proof that anything had changed. This client spent major money to host a program.
Leadership Pathways, on the other hand, have four features:

  1. They focus on developing traits you identified in Building Block #2.
  2. They are highly practical, not merely inspirational.
  3. They enable leaders to develop those traits together.
  4. They take place over time: weeks, months, or even years.

At AdVance Leadership, we’ve created several Leadership Pathways. One is called The Unleashed Leader Live Experience. Over the course of 1 year, we do the following with leaders from your company:

  • We host five full-day live training sessions.
  • We educate your current and emerging leaders in the 7 Traits that Solve 95% of Leadership Challenges.
  • Your leaders focus on “ridiculously practical” tools. We use at least one tool for each of the 7 traits and have everyone practice the tools together.
  • Each leader creates a Development Plan for how they need to grow in the coming months.
  • In between the live training, we host monthly virtual group sessions. The participants share how they’ve been implementing the tools they learned and any areas where they’ve been stuck. The group gives each other insight and guides each other to get unstuck.

1 Action

Ask yourself, “Does our company have the leaders we need to succeed in the future?” If not, what are you going to do about it?


Want to help your company unleash its leaders?

  1. Get your team to subscribe to the Friday411 newsletter.
  2. Get your copy of Gettin' (un)Busy, named by Forbes as “one of the books everyone on your team should read.”
  3. Email Garland to train your company’s leaders. We will equip them with 7 traits that solve 95% of their leadership challenges.
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