Sunday, January 29, 2017

What’s Wrong With Today’s Corporate Leaders?

If you Google ‘leadership development’ you’ll get 28 million results; the top of the page starts with ads from Accenture asking ‘what are the leadership traits you need right now’, Henley Exec Education offering leadership programs with the slogan ‘inspire and lead others’, and then Imperial College London and Harvard Business School offering leadership development courses; followed next by Wikipedia offering one of many definitions, stating that “leadership development expands the capacity of individuals to perform in leadership roles within organizations. Leadership roles are those that facilitate execution of a company's strategy through building alignment, winning mindshare and growing the capabilities of others.”
But for all the hype and great ‘talk’ about leadership development being about ‘inspiring and leading others’ and ‘winning mindshare’ – I would suggest that leadership in practice is going backwards in the early 21st Century and is not evolving like those making significant amounts of money from leadership development would like you to believe.
So unless ‘we’ genuinely recognize this trend and make a significant shift from ‘hype’ to ‘action’ then I predict that by 2030 most organizations around the world will be run by command and control type leaders, who will have little thought or care about ‘inspiring and motivating their staff’ – and even if they did care, they won’t have the skills or basic knowledge to be an inspirational leader.
What’s causing this leadership development dilemma?
There are, in my humble opinion, many factors helping subdue effective leadership development within organizations and allow bad, ineffective leadership to be the rule rather than the exception in today’s business environment.
First and foremost we have too many poor leaders developing the next generation of ‘poor’ leaders – and hence rather than great leaders developing great leaders, we have the exact opposite. These poor leaders know they’re not setting the example, but they honestly don’t care. Most are in very senior positions or are sitting on boards – and simply aren’t going to put their hands up and say ‘hey, I shouldn’t be in this position’, mostly because they already have the power and don’t see that they need much of anything else; and with the power comes the pay check – so life is easy and good. If things go wrong they’ve always got someone to blame – and God forbid they do inspire their workforce – as then a ‘worker-bee’ might disrupt that simple cushy life they have.
What about the leader’s goal of optimising ‘organizational performance’ you might ask, surely their lack of leadership skills will be spotted sooner or later. Sadly they have a booklet of ‘get out of jail free’ quotes to use when things don’t go right and have plenty of excuses for why ‘things’ aren’t improving. The classic these days is to still blame ‘the global economy’ or ‘the global financial crisis’ – in the very near future the Brits and Europeans will blame ‘Brexit’ and imagine others around the world will find some reason to blame their failure to optimize performance on Donald Trump.
Since corporate boards are no longer strong enough or vigilant enough to spot the ‘rot’ of their leadership development in their own organisations – it needs other stakeholders, be these shareholders or customers, to start using the power they genuinely have to make a positive change to leadership development in the workplace. It will have a positive difference on all stakeholders, if they do.
Second, the institutions offering leadership development aren’t following through on their ‘promises’ and again organizations aren’t ensuring that they follow through either. Meaning that there are some great leadership development programs out there – but it’s one thing to learn the theory, but it’s all meaningless if the participants can’t implement the theory back in their workplace. It should be common sense that simply having attended a course doesn’t make you a better leader – it’s what you do with the knowledge you’ve learnt that defines you (and the program). But for many leadership development companies it’s all about ‘profit’ rather than genuine results.
Leadership has to change from the top – if the executives are all command and control leaders, then you aren’t going to change anything until they change – or at least recognize the need to change. This doesn’t mean if you’re working under these conditions that you’re necessarily a bad leader – in fact you may inspire and motivate your own team, within the overriding command and control culture – but you will be a very frustrated leader sooner or later.
What needs to change for organisations that want the genuine reality of great leaders – rather than just the hype – is for them to see leadership development through to its conclusion. This means first developing a transparent leadership model that will define your corporate leaders (and hence your culture). This won’t be made up of fuzzy buzz words that sound good – but will be the genuine skills and competencies that you expect from your leaders. Then you’ll implement ways for your staff to appraise their leaders without fear of retribution.
Once you’ve developed your model you’ll need to re-develop all those currently in leadership roles, in some cases finding the right mentors to help them develop on the job – and then, most importantly, the organization must have the strength and conviction to remove those leaders from their positions that don’t transform within an agreed period of time.
You’ll also need to have a focused development program for all your emerging leaders and your leadership pipeline, from bottom to top. This developmental pipeline needs to be transparent and reviewed on an annual basis – and ideally it will be run in-house.
Finally leaders should seek out feedback from their staff – asking ‘how can I improve as a leader’. This should be done on at least an annual basis and leaders should be reviewing their development against these goals. In fact in my experience – the really genuine great leaders are constantly seeking ways to be better leaders – whereas the poor leaders are confident they are already there and shun feedback, believing that being made a leader is recognition enough that they are brilliant at their job – showing a genuine lack of appreciation for (1) what leadership is all about and (2) that you can always improve as a leader.
What the world needs now are motivational and inspirational leaders to take organizations forward into the future – leaders that don’t look for excuses why things can’t be done, but who are always looking for opportunities to improve themselves, their departments and their organisations. Leaders who inspire loyalty from their staff, a rare trait in the current business climate; and leaders who constantly want to better themselves and aren’t afraid of feedback from their staff, in fact they crave it.