If you take a look at organizations today, you’ll see that many of them are led at various levels by nice people, but all too often these individuals don’t have the knowledge, skills or ability to be effective leaders.
The answer is not to send people to leadership programs and expect them to come back transformed and capable. Most leadership training programs don’t have any expectations of visible behavior changes. This means attendees sit for a week or more, stay awake, get a certificate of completion and go back to work unchanged. On the off chance that some change did occur, the individuals often encounter resistance to their behavior changes because the new behaviors are not reinforced and supported by their direct managers. In some cases, the new behaviors are deemed unacceptable and the individual is told to back off.
The most effective leaders don’t just happen. They are developed, nurtured, reinforced and redirected. They learn from both good and bad experiences. Effective leaders provide direction, but don’t micromanage. All too often, if a task isn’t performed in a specific manner, it is considered wrong, whereas the focus should be on outcomes. If the intent is to paint a room, it doesn’t matter which wall gets painted first.
The best leaders have taught themselves to listen, ask questions so they can grasp what their subordinates are thinking, and not give them all the answers and shoo them out the door. They also encourage their subordinates to seek assistance in solving problems, but remind them that they also need to come to them with possible solutions.
Organizations with good leadership create an environment and culture that allows people to make mistakes, but works to ensure mistakes aren’t too costly. While mistakes help us learn, they shouldn’t end careers or an individual’s willingness to take a reasonable risk. The best leaders ensure the leadership team and the organization learn from every positive or negative event, that they identify what went well, what needs to improve and what needs to be done better next time.
One of the most critical factors – and one sadly lacking in far too many organizations – is that the most effective leaders actively look for and reward the appropriate behaviors they seek to develop throughout the organization, and they immediately address behaviors that are deemed unacceptable.
The best organizations have an environment and culture in which the expectation and focus is that leaders at all levels will develop and prepare their people for growth and advancement by setting the example – they model the behaviors they expect to see in their subordinate leaders.
Imagine the message that was sent to employees who saw this real event occur in a local business. A senior manager was observed walking past some crumpled paper lying on the floor in the lobby. Instead of picking it up and throwing it away, the manager found a lower-level employee, walked him over to the paper, instructed him to pick it up and throw it away, and watched as he did it. The manager should have picked up the paper and thrown it away himself. Everyone in the organization, from the top down, should lead by example.
Hearing what you say is important, but people remember what they see. Part of being an effective leader is acting like one. Take a look in the mirror. What do you see? Where are your strengths and where do you need improvement?