How well are your leaders doing during the Covid-19 pandemic? Are they leaning in or retreating? Are your teams following them or rebuking them for implementing necessary changes?
The fact is that you may be experiencing surprises, where leaders you thought were superstars are demonstrating edginess and inflexibility, and others are rising up, perhaps quite unexpectedly. Where cultures are strong and the sinews of leadership strengthened, I am seeing many of our clients weather the storm quite well. They still have tough decisions to make, but the leaders are engaged, thoughtful and seeking a way forward — most often collaboratively and with a listening ear. However, even for those organizations that are seemingly making a go of it, I am curious whether it’s because of force of will or because they are truly rallying their teams. So what are you seeing?
When times are good, revenue and profit growth will mask a lot of ills. As leaders, we can operate under the illusion that it must be our inspired leadership, our unique product or service value proposition, or perhaps our great strategy that is creating success. In any instance, good times or bad, we are accountable.
For example, I recall one instance when I was on the elevator with the CEO of the company I was working for. On the short ride up, he asked me how my special project was coming along. I shared the positive data trends, and he said, “Nice job!” About six months prior, I had been asked to take on a role dealing with a problem area for the company. It involved building a strategy and enrolling an entire business function across the U.S. in solving it. I thanked him for the acknowledgment and quickly noted that while I was reliant on many others to execute as an influencer, I would surely be taking the heat if things were not going well, regardless of my role. He simply smiled and said, “That’s true.”
As leaders, we cannot escape the inevitable responsibility for outcomes. Often, indirect leadership can be more challenging than direct leadership, yet we may not focus on either, especially during tough times.
So the question is, what are you doing to develop your leaders? And you may be asking, “Why now?” A number of our clients recognize that it’s time to invest in their people, namely their leaders. They know that it’s now or never to shore up the foundations of their businesses for the long haul. Prior to the pandemic, and even more pronounced now, is the fact that the need for great leaders who can develop people and drive performance is critical. While it may sound morbid, what if something unfortunate befalls key leaders on your team? How would you characterize your succession readiness? It’s time to invest in your leaders so they can continue to rise up, especially amid adversity, and create teams that last, that can survive a pandemic and that can create building blocks for the future.
In his book Great by Choice, Jim Collins begins with a bedrock concept he calls the “20-mile march.” It’s a plan. It’s a plan that is not static but defines a course of action; without it, the risk of failure is multiplied. I am baffled by leaders and organizations who make excuses not to develop a people plan, especially during tough times. To me, this is an abject failure to recognize that the very thing that may keep you in business is your leadership and how your people respond to your leadership. The people plan must support and be tied to the strategic plan. Otherwise, how will you ensure you are developing your organization, not just for the present but for the future? And the impact of development can actually be swift, even while leadership growth is a lifelong endeavor. Simply stated, many organizations do not have a plan for leader development, much less one that is tied to the business strategy.
In her book, Leaders Deserve Better, our company’s CEO, Jennifer Mackin, offers clarity on the levers needed to develop leaders. She explains that there are four drivers of leader development success:
- The overarching people strategy must be connected to the business strategy.
- Leadership development must be leader-led (it’s not HR’s job).
- Leadership development must have face-to-face components.
- Leaders must be able to put into play the skills they learn.
Notice that the first of the four drivers deals with having the people strategy connected to the business strategy. It’s a nonstarter to think you can jump right to development without a clear pathway that takes into consideration how people development will support the evolving strategies of the business — and how this readiness will enable a response to changes or challenges like Covid-19.
There is also a cultural effect to consider. If your leaders feel isolated and disconnected, now is the time to engage them. I’ve found that interactive virtual learning (not traditional videos or reading) can deliver the same punch and impact as in-person training. Your leaders need to be engaged, and you need to develop them during challenging times. We often grow when we are challenged, and effectively challenging your leaders now just might save your company.
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