In most organizations, the development of leaders tends to fall into the category of important but not urgent. It isn’t that organizations don’t desire to build leaders; it’s just that they don’t invest time into building a strategic plan and process for leadership development. They invest in marketing strategies, sales strategies, operational strategies, and compliance strategies, but most never invest in what they will find to be their greatest future asset for growth…Leaders Ready!
CEOs across a wide-range of disciplines all say they value leadership development. The struggle tends to occur when they attempt to build a scalable process that can be measured and evaluated. Due to this constraint, one of two things happens. Either organizations try to outsource leadership development, or they fall into the trap of throwing money at the problem through conferences and books.
The Summit Experience
I hear the story over and over: We need to do something this year, so who is new and exciting that we can bring in? Or where are we going to take our top emerging leaders? Others wonder about the new best-selling leadership book that they could have everyone read. We refer to this as the Summit Experience strategy. The unbelievable leadership author/speaker comes in and delivers great content over a day or a week.
Wow! What an experience this is! These events include all bells and whistles of engaging video clips and eloquent application from other great companies, and now we even have musical groups to help boost the energy in the room, like we are watching late-night TV. Your people get to drink fine wine from a fire hydrant for hours on end.
When we drill down with these CEOs to learn what the ultimate leadership summit goal is, as it pertains to the immediate and long term impact on their entire organization, we find that they want their people to be able to apply ALL the principles and action items into the grassroots of the organization. They try to have a few of their people take all this back to the rest of their teams.
Then the final question strikes: How much traction and application is being applied three months later? In essence, how is that working for you? And that is where the shaking of the head and the grin occur. Typically, not too much has changed, and they have gone back to business as usual. So why doesn’t it stick, and why is there so little long-term impact?
The answer is typically twofold.
- Their people realized they could not communicate all that great information with the same passion and clarity.
- There was no system or process in place, and no plan for accountability or follow through.
Please don’t hear me wrong; there is great value in leadership experts. They are writing great books and they deliver an unbelievable experience around their remarkable content. The problem is that’s just not how leaders are developed.
A New (Old) Solution
At WildSparq, we believe the answer lies in an age-old principle of iron sharpening iron. We believe that a leader develops as they are being led by another leader, and then are themselves given the opportunity to lead.
The great military institutes understand this principle and strategically build dozens of levels within their track of movement from one rank to the next. The reason is simple: they want to give a leader the opportunity to lead others as soon as possible and, as their leadership grows, so does their opportunity to lead more people with more responsibility.
Unfortunately, most organizations promote managers who can run systems and processes, but have never been given the example or opportunity to grow leaders. So how do we build a strategy in our organization? How do we provide great leadership content and expectations for application? How do we equip and set up opportunities for these individuals to lead and develop these qualities and habits on their team? For many, this will take a major shift in their organizational culture.
Shifting to a Leadership Culture
How do you shift your culture to value, support, and resource this new expectation of leadership-driven growth within an organization? We have found that the key to this culture shift centers on buy-in. The organization and its leaders must be willing to accept a new pathway for leadership growth.
The overall strategy is to create a multiplying movement of multiplying leaders in an organization. Leaders from the top of the organization down must buy into owning the new expectation that we will build our own leaders, who in turn will be expected to build more leaders. When this occurs, our organizations become their own talent factories. It is not enough for mid-level managers to simply manage processes and systems; they must grow to also develop leaders who multiply their strengths and leadership into others.
“There are 1.4 billion people in China who haven’t even heard of Wal-Mart yet. Without a doubt our biggest challenge is to develop leaders fast enough to meet all the opportunities we face….cultivate the people with the capacity to lead and advance those who multiply their leadership through others.”
– Lee Scott, President and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Your Tax Status Doesn’t Stop Leadership Development
The principles of this idea do not change as it pertains to the tax status of an organization. Organizations with real strategy focused on multiplying leaders will win. Those that do not will ultimately lose and likely die. While some for-profit organizations may have a bit of an advantage as it pertains to the velocity and volume of the alarm that sounds when a leader is not producing, the opportunity remains the same.
When a business unit underperforms, the power of profit, or the lack thereof, will sound an alarm much sooner and louder. All too often, the nonprofit that has the same under-producing results typically applies an excessive amount of undeserved grace, thus prolonging, or at best minimizing, the volume of the alarm. Changes are made much slower, allowing for more and more collateral damage to be experienced. Extra resources are poured in longer as the changing of the guard is constantly pushed out.
Nonprofits must be mindful not to allow sacrifice and passion for the cause to be mistaken for leadership. There is often a temptation to promote the most passionate member with the most sacrificial story. No doubt, we want passion, enthusiasm and sacrifice, but they cannot trump leadership.
How do You Shift?
We believe there must be an unrelenting commitment by top leadership for true change to occur. There must be a new expectation that we will no longer outsource the development of leaders. Leaders must shift to answer that call, thus filling the gap that they have helped create.
Leadership doesn’t merely occur at a summit. It happens daily, weekly, and monthly with real relationships. Leader development must be life on life. Leaders are never born in a vacuum. They are always developed by another leader. Every great military institute understands this principle. A leader must be trained by another leader and then have a very clear expectation path as to how they will soon become the teacher and trainer of a group entrusted to them.
What actually has to shift within an organization’s culture? At the core, it is not the content, but rather the strategy for delivery. Content is so readily available it almost becomes an overwhelming distraction for a developing leader. Yes, content still matters, but the experience surrounding how the content is engaged unlocks the power.
Through our platform, our organization helps equip any type of organization with a content distribution model that sets the stage for leadership development in an ongoing format. We have found that consistent, ongoing conversation, empowerment and engagement is the biggest step in shifting an organization’s culture and creating an organization that multiplies leaders who are multiplying leaders.
Cord Sachs is the CEO of FireSeeds, a company that exists to enhance a client’s culture through recruiting great leaders and implementing leader development strategy. The WildSparq leadership development platform can be found at www.wildsparq.com.
This article is reprinted from Vol. 3, No. 2, of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today.