Leadership preparation beyond the MBA

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Leading is a difficult and complex task. Leaders have to develop, inspire and motivate employees, while ensuring the organizational vision and processes are aligned with goals and objectives that achieve company growth and profitability. Rapid changes in technology and an uncertain political environment add an extra level of anxiety and uncertainty to an executive’s portfolio. Rarely does one ascend to leadership status with all the necessary intra and interpersonal competencies and technical skills to achieve both the human and business demands of leadership. Having an MBA does not prepare one to self analyze and sort through biases, blinkers and blind spots. Once a leader elevates beyond mid management, an entirely different set of skills and competencies are needed to lead an organization and its people.

I know many of you reading this article are experts at what you do and because of your success you were tapped for leadership.  In a month’s time, you went from managing processes, to having to develop teams, manage conflict, ethical behavior and communicate clear goals and objectives and quite honestly you’re overwhelmed but dare not say so aloud.  Kate Ludeman and Eddie Erlandson wrote in the Harvard Business Review ‘The more pressure an alpha male feels to perform, the more he tends to shift his leadership style from constructive and challenging to intimidating or even abusive.” One of the most important competencies at the executive level is relationship management. Few enter the ranks of leadership knowing how to do it well without some form of training or coaching.

The task of leadership preparation largely goes untapped in many organizations because it requires objective assessment and critical feedback to subordinates.  Stratford Sherman and Alyssa Freas wrote in the Harvard Business Review “Assessments and candid feedback are seen as essential to executives’ development, yet supervisors of all ranks don’t provide such feedback to subordinates. Why don’t they? This type of candor generates emotion, and emotion can be scary.”  Therefore, many of the high achievers who ultimately become leaders have never had unbridled feedback. The higher one goes up the corporate ladder the less likely this feedback occurs. Leaders need someone around who’s career is not hindered by them saying the unsay able. I know you’re saying that’s not me.

High achievers, those tapped for leadership, can be simultaneously brilliant and productive; yet, overly critical, domineering and condescending; leaving a path of bruised egos, broken relationships and hurt feelings along the way. Eventually their demeanor impacts the organization’s productivity, creativity and growth. Before someone is tapped to assume greater responsibility within your organization, perform due diligence and give them the tools needed to lead successfully. Invest in leadership development and reap the rewards and return on your investment for years to come.

Leadership preparation beyond the MBA

1. Develop a culture of learning and development

Learning and development should become part of your organization’s corporate culture.  We live in a fast paced, global environment, where competition is fierce and talent scarce. Learning and development programs should be communicated in a way that fosters excitement and intrigue, a desire to enhance personal performance.  For executives tapped as leaders, executive coaching would fall under leadership development and should be viewed as a company perk for high achievers, a rite of passage for those entering the ranks of executive leadership, the high mile club. Coaching for leadership development should not be interpreted as a program for troubled executives. It should be communicated in a way that brands the program’s prestige and value.

2. Engage all stakeholders

Leadership development training should involve all stakeholders; the client, their boss, and human resources. Stakeholders should work together to identify the executive’s learning objectives. Coaching for leadership development improves the executive’s coping mechanisms, communication style, working alliances and problem solving; these improvements benefit the executive and the organization, and alone are worth the investment. In a collaborative relationship, the stakeholders know the organization’s challenges and develop a flexible plan of action to address them.

3. No surprises.  Determine cost and budget upfront

The human resources department should research the cost of leadership development training and the best programs available to meet the needs of the leaders and the organization. Should it be group training, one-on-one executive coaching or a combination of both, collectively the stakeholders should prepare a budget upfront for what they want to accomplish and how and when they are going to pay for it.

4. 360-degree feedback

Provide those tapped for leadership with a 360 degree feedback evaluation. Survey data is collected from the client and stakeholders. This feedback gives an objective assessment of how others view the candidates’ behavior and how that behavior impacts the organization. Patterns of behavior that negatively impact behavior and performance goals emerge.  It shows their weaknesses and strengths. Sherman and Freas stated, “It is remarkable how many smart, highly motivated, and apparently responsible people rarely pause to contemplate their own behavior.” The survey also uncovers how bosses can unknowingly become part of the employee’s negative behavior.  If the survey shows low, negative marks from colleagues, customers and direct reports and high praise from the boss, that shows the boss is part of the problem.

5. Provide lots of data

Graham Jones and Kirsty Spooner of Lane4 Management Group, Ltd., identified common characteristics amongst high achievers.  They are goal driven, totally committed to be the best, demanding and continually strive for improvement.  They are interested in opportunities to improve their performance and development so use this to your advantage.  They respond well to lots of data so communicate with them in a language they understand by providing them with hard numbers and facts. Show them not only where the weaknesses are but how they can become better performers, because that is something that adds value and motivates them.

6. Hold leaders accountable

Bosses have a vested interest in having their high achievers assume leadership positions. They are rewarded for developing leaders and passing on the company reigns to qualified candidates. Therefore, they must hold them accountable for improving their behavior. Once a candidates’ leadership development plan with action steps is completed, their boss must hold them accountable for their behavior and monitor their progress; no progress, no advancement.

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