Leadership Is Dying And We Need To Save It

There are stats everywhere that suggest this is the case.

One of the most troubling to me is this, per McKinsey research: 95% of employees at mid-size to large companies cannot name the strategy of where they work. It’s relatively easy to argue that a function of leadership is to convey a strategy throughout the organization, and apparently that isn’t happening.

OK, so maybe strategy and priority aren’t being set — but if productivity is still healthy, that’s good, right?

Not so much.

Middle management actually costs North America about $3 trillion (that’s with a “T,” yes) per year in lost productivity. At the individual level, ineffective leadership costs companies about $144,541.30 per day.

OK, so strategy/priority/productivity aren’t looking great. What about motivating others and helping them succeed?

Not so much here either.

Employee engagement is actually declining worldwide, as is trust in the upper ranks of leadership.

So now — and admittedly every company is different, and some organizations are executing these concepts properly — we have flaws in strategy, priority-setting, productivity, and engaging others.

I’d call that a leadership crisis, if not quite a death yet.

Call me crazy …  but I’m hopeful we can breathe new life into leadership. We need to start with understanding how we got here and strike a plan to improve how we develop modern leaders.

How did we get here?

This is a very complex topic that entire books have been written about.

Out of all the reasons, I think some of the most palpable are how we train and develop people. Much of “how to train for productivity” comes from a book written in 1911 (Principles of Scientific Management by Frederick Winslow Taylor), which seems rather long ago. (We barely had cars then, and now we have self-driving cars.)

Additionally, the age most people become a manager for the first time is 30. Their first managerial training is often at 42. So we’re letting people — on average! — spend over a decade in the role without giving them any official guidance.

It seems to me, then, that many leaders may be getting poor, out-of-context training — and none too frequently either.

So how do we improve leadership development for now?

I’ve been working with leaders/managers for about two decades helping them become high-impact, thriving leaders.

Here’s what I’ve learned works to accelerate learning that sticks:

  1. The first big idea (not a surprise to anyone) is that people learn well in groups, or from each other.
  2. People need resources and content specific to them.
  3.  You can’t throw a mountain of content at someone who already feels as if they’re drowning in deliverables. They won’t engage with it.
  4.  Strip away the BS. People in leadership roles need actionable, practical solutions for what they’re dealing with day-to-day.

And here’s what I believe needs to be the underpinning of a successful leadership development  program:

  1. Start with care and respect: This is where it all begins. If no one cares or respects each other and “show me the numbers and nothing else” rules,  then no leadership development program will ever truly take hold.
  2. Focus on soft skills: What leaders need to be better at is communicating with direct reports, recognizing them, understanding their strengths, having career dialogues with them, and setting priorities.
  3. Design around time and stress: Most leaders view themselves as super-busy all the time. Nothing should be done in huge chunks, i.e. “the three-day offsite” where most will be manically checking their email. Instead, the best leadership learning happens in smaller bites over an extended period of time. Think half-day sessions over a series of months.
  4. Be data-driven: If you have data that shows what seems to make leaders in your company effective, well, use it to design leadership development around those skills. Or, as I did recently when designing a 2-year program for a client, ask the leaders what skills they need to learn to help the organization and themselves reach their goals.

So let’s do this: let’s take a small step to make leadership better.

Lisa Martin, PCC

About Lisa Martin, PCC

I help high achievers – people like you – Lead + Live Better™. I support new and seasoned leaders to gain the clarity and confidence to work more effectively and have more impact. And I equip organizations with leadership development programs which cultivate amazing leaders at every level.

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