The Leadership Gap

It seems to me that in an era of tremendous change, there seems to be a huge leadership gap within most organizations. I find this to be especially compelling given the growing focus over the last decade in business circles on developing leadership skills and the need to create leadership bench depth through leadership programs or succession planning. Whether promoting from within or hiring externally, the gap continues to grow as organizations look for ways to learn and adapt in an ever changing environment. Looking at this from the 60,000 foot level, this challenge is creating numerous hardships within various levels of organizations.

The reason for this is a bit hazy and varied. While many organizations have established leadership development programs or succession planning processes, many more organizations don't, and those with programs are still finding hard to fill their leadership gaps due to either ineffective design or ill-defined needs these programs are designed to meet. Again, the reasons for this are varied and multifactorial. For those organizations that don't have leadership programs, there seems to be a prevailing view and expectation that all managers are (or should be) leaders. Well, not so much. To complicate this further, many organizations have information silos, pockets of excellence, and information specialists (that one person who knows everything) which prevents leadership growth/development across an organization and knowledge bench depth needed to be an effective leader.

What to do

Since we can't or shouldn't depend on our organization to develop us, let's discuss what you can do for yourself. First, do you understand the difference between manager and leader and do you want to be a leader? This is a tricky question as the definition of leadership seems to change depending on which generation you fall into or identify most with. For example, Boomers would associate leader with a C-suite position while a millennial would consider it more situational. So in other words, a line-level supervisor may consider themselves just as much a leader as a CEO.

Leadership in and of itself is a bit of a mystery to most individuals resulting in a misunderstanding of leadership in general. By today's definition, leadership revolves around the ability to drive and effect change; the kind needed to help an organization move in the right direction. Using this definition, I'm guessing you don't see to many individuals out there who can do this. Face it, how many times have you heard someone in your organization say "we need more leadership." Ok, what's that mean to them? We need more charismatic "white knight" heroes to lead us to salvation? I'm going to say... No! In fact, that's the last thing we need. Good leadership effectively moves organizations in the right direction, is future oriented, grasps the need for emotional intelligence, and understands that reality trumps ego. Also, understand that not all managers are or should be considered leaders. Keep in mind that managers are those that are adept at getting things done and maintaining the status quo (planning, organizing, and controlling operations). Leaders are those that are change catalysts and possess the ability to clarify the direction of the organization while motivating others.

Here is an example of the traits that embody those that are considered leaders:

  • Have established vision
  • Inspire action (overcome obstacles)
  • Be optimistic (show enthusiasm)
  • Have integrity/honest (be conscientiousness)
  • Support the team (team orientation)
  • Have confidence (and be able to build self-esteem in others)
  • Communicate (influence)
  • Be decisive (self-assurance)

Second, once you decide you want to become a leader, how do you get there? How do you transition from manger to leader? There is a plethora of material out there on leadership and if you Google leadership, you will get over 600 million hits. So rather than sending you out on a scavenger hunt, here are some basics to help you get started:

  1. Learn to be self-aware: You have to know thyself before you can know others. If you ever want to know how to influence others, you have to know what makes them tick and how you impact their behavior (positively or negatively). Self-awareness also includes how you interact with organizational politics and culture. Whenever you take on a new position (internal or external), one must be aware of how they fit into the system, the perception of others in relation to your new position, and how the needs of the organization dictates which job elements are needed and what skillset to apply. I recommend reading material on emotional intelligence and finding a trusted advisor that can perform a 360 evaluation. This information will put you on the road to understanding yourself and your impact on others.
  2. Learn how you influence others: Whether you know it or not, everything you do and say is being watched (You're on stage). We influence those around us through our communications and actions whether positive or negative. Additionally, this influence extends both vertically (up and down) and horizontally. So what can you do? Learn the types and styles of influence, and how these approaches in combination will help you develop a style to how you influence others. Learn how influence also impacts perceptions and behaviors. For example if you manage others, your ability to influence their behavior is closely linked to their ability to display that same behavior and can directly impact employee morale. Or how you influence other's perception of your leadership, or lack of leadership, in action. I recommend reading material on leadership influence and perception, and finding a coach who can help you understand the different types of influence and develop your style.
  3. Learn how to encourage others: Having the ability to encourage others (and value them) is an important skill. When I say "encourage others" what I'm referring to is the ability to give more responsibility, build self-esteem in others, inspire action, and show enthusiasm for others accomplishments. This is a tough one for many. Socially we are encouraged to focus on ourselves, so how do we make the switch? Start with a simple vision (keep it to no more than 5 words). You can use this vision to promote teamwork across borders (so to speak), open lines of communication, and be passionate about the work they are doing. You can further encourage them through support activities and modeling the desired behavior to improve productivity or outcomes. Lastly, encourage challenge by being direct with the issues and what is needed to address them, and learn to have difficult conversations. An environment that embraces challenge and encouragement will flourish. I recommend reading material on leadership and encouragement, and finding a mentor that can model and help you understand what encouragement of others can contribute to your leadership style.

Final Considerations

Leaders can come from anywhere and be in any position. They can be extroverted to introverted, easygoing to controlling, or generous to frugal. But if we wait for someone else (boss) or an organization to develop our leadership skills, some of us could be waiting a lifetime. Instead, take responsibility to create leadership opportunities by learning and developing your leadership acumen, skills, and style. This can be done through project opportunities, reading materials, courses, conferences/events, coaching, mentoring, or if you can, an organizational leadership program.

The process of self-development can propel your career forward and give you an edge in advancement opportunities. Remember, these are skillsets that stay with you whether you move up the ladder with the same organization or move up the ladder with different organizations over the years. Becoming a leader is a process and not an easy one. It's especially challenging when you have to change from manager (getting things done) to leader (change catalyst, inspire, and motivate). So find a champion to help you, start studying, be humble, radiate positive energy and lead by example. I hope to see you at the top!

©  Darrielle Ehrheart | March 4, 2016

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