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How will your group function when you are no longer there? This is one of the classic questions for assessing the success of a leader. It is not good enough that you improved the department while it was under your guidance. What matters is that the group is able to sustain that high level of performance going forward. This recognition of the ongoing success of the company, or work group, is part of Adamchik’s Third Law of Leadership: It's about the organization. Personal glory and individual success are noteworthy, but organizational achievement is the result of the work of many people over time. Nelson Mandela explained it this way: “I am your servant. I don’t come to you as a leader, as one above others. We are a great team. Leaders come and go, but the organization and the collective leadership that has looked after the fortunes and reversals of this organization will always be there. "
Growth and rapid change are synonymous with American business. It is the rare strategic plan that calls for shrinking the company or for maintaining the status quo. Ours is a growth world and growth demands change. Revenue growth is often the first bullet point on the strategic plan. However, all too often, the bullet points following that one fail to address the people issue. The company wants to increase sales by 20 percent over the next five years. A wonderful goal. However, who will oversee that increase? Existing workers will be facing volume they have never seen before. The traditional practice of "putting in some overtime" is no longer valid. Organizations should not rely on the ability to put in a surge effort to get the job done. The fact is that we are almost always in surge mode today. There will always be more to do than we have the time or resources to accomplish. The only possible way to execute at a high level is through a well-led workforce that exercises creativity and initiative. In the face of growth and change, tenured employees may yearn for the good ol' days. New workers may not know your system. Leadership is required at all levels.
Leader development is cultural. Those leading the organization must believe that it has a worthwhile mission, that it will endure. A natural extension of this philosophy is that the people in the organization realize that developing the next generation of leaders is integral to future success. There must be an expectation of developing future leaders.
Harvard professor John Kotter contends that “successful corporations don’t wait for leaders to come along. They actively seek out people with leadership potential and expose them to career experiences designed to develop that potential.”
Successful sports teams have good farm clubs. Successful businesses find ways to expose new leaders to lower-risk situations. The sad reality (and the reason so many organizations are unsuccessful or fail to thrive) is that most will not dedicate the resources--in time and money--nor do they have the expertise to develop leaders.
Development of subordinates may or may not be part of a given job description. However, whether it is written or not, make no mistake--the development of subordinates is a primary job responsibility of all positions. This emphasis on employee development is one of the key differentiators for the leader of the 21st century. “That's not in my job description” is an oft-repeated, albeit weak, excuse for failing to "grow" new leadership. Perhaps coaching and mentoring are better suited to describe the process. A leader may coach anyone at anytime, and will, hopefully, develop a mentoring relationship over time. (Mentoring means one-on-one, face-to-face interaction with the intent of preparing people to step into positions of increased responsibility and impact.)
Real leaders are always developing people. They recognize the interpersonal nature of the job and work to integrate individual desires with organizational needs. They create a culture that breeds learning and encourages risk-taking as a means to organizational longevity. Anyone can learn to be a great leader.
The best organizations consist of people who are ready to step up to the next challenge. They have a ready pool of able candidates who have been exposed to higher-level challenges, either through targeted opportunities in a concerted leader development process or through reading, study, and discussion. Leadership development must be an integral element of the culture of the organization.