August 2004 Insight Newsletter

Are We Developing Enough Leaders?

‘Leaders who fail to share in learning & coaching cast a shadow on their organizations that prevents others from growing.’ – Zenger & Folkman in The Extraordinary Leader

The key question for every organization for the next 20 years is this: are we developing enough leaders. Job market experts point to a growing shortage looming, as much as 75% short by some estimates. Though subject to debate even conservative estimates put the figure at 30% or more. Good news for those who want to work forever – they’ll always be needed. Bad news for society and future growth.

At the same time, Gallup and others tell us up to 80% of workers are “disengaged” and circulating their resumes… because we aren’t providing enough growth opportunities and leadership challenges in most organizations today. Why not? Mostly because of myths about leadership – that it’s rare, hard and time-consuming to develop and that we really need only those few knights in shining armour, often called CEO’s, to ride in and save the day single-handedly.

1. Every Leader Must Develop Leaders

The biggest reason for the leadership shortage isn’t retirements, though that is accelerating the problem. It’s steadily growing demand in today’s more decentralized, flatter, slimmer and virtual organization structures. When armies of workers simply followed orders and customers didn’t expect individualized service, companies could get by with only those few superstars who emerged from the pack by chance. Now a far greater percentage of associates in any organization require the ability to think creatively, take initiative, coordinate complex operations and be fully accountable – the hallmarks of leaders.

What hasn’t ramped up sufficiently to meet demand is the role of existing leaders to coach more leaders to take their places. A study by Corporate Leadership Council showed 8000 leaders said that far and away the most important learning for them came from being handed “senior responsibility on the job,” but close behind came coaching and mentoring. Training didn’t show up on the list till #10. Yet we often throw people in at the deep end and they sink or swim on their own as leaders. That is when we don’t complain disgustedly that “no one is qualified; there’s no bench strength” in many organizations. We ignore all those disengaged managers who go looking for companies that will support them effectively in stepping up to bigger roles.

What’s missing is the willingness of every existing leader to coach and learn to become good at it. There’s plenty of reason to do it. Studies show that by coaching leaders actually improve themselves more than those they coach… and that leaders who continually learn stimulate faster learning by their staff. Yet companies still tolerate “leaders” who “get numbers,” but “aren’t good with people.” Fatal!

Leadership coaching, like other skills, can be taught… and can be coached by more senior leaders in those who report to them. But this has to become the expectation and the norm before many current leaders will recognize it as a truly vital part of their duties. Yes, it takes more time, but the payback is an empowered capable staff that accelerate overall achievement exponentially. They learn in far less time than one imagines and the extra hands taking responsibility soon outpace the added time required to help them get there.

Helping people develop as coaches is arguably the most powerful tool available today to accelerate overall performance of both individuals and companies.

2. Useful Resources

Of course, today there are thousands of books and sources on coaching since it’s becoming a big business, with “executive coaches typically charging around $7000 for 6 months coaching. For those who want to learn more for themselves, many of the books cover similar territory, but I like this site which has some interesting case studies, for example, as well as other features listed under “Resource Centre” – The Coaching and Mentoring Network (UK). For those who want to consider becoming “executive coaches” themselves, the primary North American site is “CoachU.” Note that there are debates about their training approach, however, and there are several competitive organizations.

3. Coaching is Relatively Straight Forward

Many organizations are realizing the value of coaching. One of the most interesting approaches I’ve heard about is a church that pairs up its members and asks them to coach each other on whatever each of the pair wants to improve at. They each set goals and plan follow up, then take turns checking the other’s progress every couple of weeks. This sort of buddy system coaching works very well in many business organizations as well. Letting people choose those whom they feel would be most worth coaching or being coached by is a basic of these approaches, as is keeping strict confidentiality within the relationships.