Investing in leadership development is an important and strategically beneficial decision for business owners and operators. There are many different styles of leadership training, but they all serve an essential purpose: to enhance current leadership and grow the next generation of leaders to take over.
This could include preparing lower level employees for new leadership roles, enhancing the leadership abilities of current managers, or giving valuable members of your workforce the right education, training and tools in leadership development so that they are ready to step into your succession planning. Jack Welch the legendary leader of GE has become synonymous with grooming and priming the leadership pipeline at GE in other to ensure that the behemoth continues to dominate its competitors.
No matter who is involved in leadership training, however, crafting leadership development skills is only one part of the process. Actually applying or executing on those skills to cultivate your leadership team to its full potential is quite something else. Leadership activities and drills are useful ways to identify and improve strengths while working to bolster areas of weakness.
Discover Your Strengths and Weaknesses Through Leadership Activities
A major focus of leadership training is to uncover strengths and weaknesses. Through deliberate and in-depth assessments and personal interviews, you can help employees uncover and understand where they already possess valuable traits as well as detect gaps in skills development that they might want to focus on reinforcing.
An activity which we have found to be useful is where you ask your team to give examples of themselves in various settings. For example you can ask, “If you were a piece of clothing, what would you be?” Possible answers could then be “a three piece suit”, “a nice pair of slacks”, or “a favorite style of clothing”. The answers given will provide an opportunity to discuss values and motivation. Another type of activity could be for individuals to list activities they like to do. These could be work related or personal in nature. Again the responses you get will help engender a discussion on motivation and intrinsic values – after all we now know what excites your team. Google and several tech companies have programs where team members dedicate 10 to 20% of their time working on personal projects which often result in some fun projects and products being built.
Once activities are discovered, take the time to evaluate those activities and generate a conversation around how those activities match with required specific leadership skills. For example someone who is interested in running marathons might be asked about how planning for and training for a marathon is similar or dissimilar to launching a new product line. What skills are involved? What resources are needed? How do you deal with adversity?
We have all heard about runners’ wall. This is a mysterious point where a runner simply cannot break through – a literal and figurative wall. What does it take to break through a ‘project wall’? What specific skills and resources will your team need to call on to be able to overcome challenges in the workplace? The activities in the leadership training session can be a role play for how to actually deal with the real world difficulties that leaders are faced with every day. Make sure your team takes these activities and trainings seriously.
Strengthening the Entire Organization
We have all heard about the adage, “you are only as strong as your weakest link”. This is especially critical in business. Think about the many examples of systemic failures we have read about or seen on the news: The Veterans Administration fiasco regarding unconscionable wait times for veterans or General Motors’ (GM) struggles with their ignition switch issues which resulted in several fatalities. There are of course other examples but suffice it to say that these organizations with large numbers of capable staff and leaders still suffered catastrophic consequences because they ignored their weakest links – they ignored their leaders both up and down the chain of command.
If the Veterans Administration did not (allegedly) maintain a culture of silence and perhaps some ‘bullying’ perhaps someone in the chain of command could have alerted upper leadership to the systemic issues of delays. If the political leadership in the United States for example, was not so insular and the bureaucracy so entrenched, perhaps the unnecessary suffering of men and woman who served their country honorably would have been prevented.
By developing strong leaders, an organization can ‘flatten’ its hierarchies to better connect different levels of responsibility. By strengthening communication and ensuring openness, lower level staff are also empowered to take leadership action when the need arises – often preventing crises from getting out of control. Think about the famous story about Toyota Motor Company’s production line where a single worker can stop the entire operation if they detect a defect or a problem with the production line. What a way to infuse leadership into one’s organization!
Here’s another example, a leader-in-training could be provided an opportunity to evaluate, purchase and deploy a particular system (i.e. Learning Management System) for use within the organization. He or she could follow some guidelines to solicit input from other team members in terms of needs and features. They can then review various vendors in the Learning Management System space and perhaps conduct a few demos and even establish a free trial or two. The leader in this example can then assemble a small team (leading to further delegation of duties for example) to test the free trial and report back to the whole team. Once approval is given, the pilot team could then be tasked with writing documentation to implement the new system. Such is the power of using real world examples in your leadership development activities.
By taking on this particularly high visibility role in the previously mentioned leadership development activity (learning management system selection), team members could gain invaluable experience communicating with upper management as well as their own peers and in so doing discover some best practices that can be shared with others in the organization. Never understate the significance of leadership activities and games – sure they might feel ‘cheesy’ and ‘corny’ at times, but they work!