My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.
As we wrap up another year, it’s hard not to wonder what 2023 will bring.
Will there be deepened economic turmoil and a full-fledged recession? How will this affect the workforce? Will the trend of tight labor markets and high employee turnover continue?
No one can say, of course, but one way any organization can future-proof itself is to build its internal leadership capacity.
When challenges come, it’s the leaders within your organization who will make the difference in weathering the storm.
Contrary to popular thinking, leadership is a skill that can be learned. And you can develop it at all levels of your company—including frontline workers.
The Difference Good Leaders Make
Let’s say a midsize company is facing a wave of resignations as employees seek greener pastures.
If the company contains and supports many strong leaders in its ranks, the situation will resolve itself very differently than if leadership is lacking.
In a company with high leadership capacity, leaders will:
- Notice the problem quickly and begin to develop solutions.
- Be transparent with themselves and others about the causes of the high turnover (and admit they don’t have all the answers when appropriate).
- Speak boldly and candidly with employees—those who left and those who may—about their motivations and desires.
- Avoiding blame, take decisive action to enhance long-term job satisfaction at the company. That might include giving more recognition to employees, offering training and development, coaching them in their career paths, or reconfiguring their job responsibilities to match their strengths.
- Highlight through their own behavior why they believe the company is a good place to work.
Compare that to how the company with low leadership capacity, where bosses are likely to:
- Turn a blind eye to the issue until it gets too big to handle.
- Complain in hushed tones to other bosses about the issue.
- Try to secretly wrangle intel about who might be leaving and make loaded comments meant to send a message to those people.
- Place blame on employees who leave or consider leaving and reveal anger or frustration when they do.
- Try to prevent turnover with shortsighted, one-off measures like gift cards, bonuses, or insincere positive feedback.
When you walk into a company with low leadership capacity, you can usually just feel it. The culture is off. People seem stressed and unhappy. Given the uncertainty of the future, you can’t afford for your organization—at least not the portion of it you have influence over—to operate in such a way.
So, How Do You Build Up Leaders?
The process of creating leaders at all levels of the organization is an ongoing endeavor. You’ll never be done. The important thing is to start.
I encourage you to spend some time over the holidays considering how you can enhance the total leadership quotient at your organization. Here are a few pointers:
- Start with yourself. Leaders are created by their fellow leaders. If you are lacking in leadership capacity yourself, you’re unlikely to build it up in others. Spend time thinking back on the leadership lessons you’ve learned over your career. Articulate your own leadership philosophy. Read one of the classic leadership books over the break. And above all, hold yourself to a high standard.
- Few words, lots of action. One thing you don’t want to do is make a big hullabaloo about the new leadership initiative at your company or in your department. That’s likely to feel forced, and employees will wonder if you’re actually going to follow through. Instead, begin with the self-development mentioned above and by working on your one-on-one relationships in the company.
- Know exactly who the high-potential leaders are. Not everyone has interest in being a leader, and that’s fine. Some can be very good contributors and lead themselves well without direct influence over others. But it is vital to know who in the organization does have high leadership potential and will play a key role in the future. These are the people who are most likely to shape the company’s culture, rally people around a shared vision, and get people excited about applying their talents at the company. They are priceless, and should be nurtured and encouraged.
- Invest in leadership development. There are so many ways to develop leaders today. It could be something as low cost as offering a book club in which anyone interested can read a classic leadership book together, discussing a chapter each week. There are also a plethora of online resources for development, including things as simple as great leadership talks on YouTube. And there is increasingly value in actually gathering leadership teams together in person to learn new skills and strengthen their bonds in a retreat setting, if that is something you can organize. Finally, there are software solutions that help coach people managers in their jobs, helping them learn leadership skills in their daily workflow.
Leadership fads come and go. And a lot of people talk a big talk about the topic while not doing much recognizable as “leading” in their daily lives. But when you do encounter an organization that places an emphasis on leadership at all levels, it’s like magic. Almost without exception, these are the companies that keep their talent, attract change-makers, and win in the market.
Good luck as you continue building your team’s leadership capacity, and have a fantastic 2023!