Type “leadership” into the search bar on Amazon and prepare to sift through more than 70,000 titles. And that’s just books! Countless more articles, theses, and treatises on the topic have been written by savants from Cicero to Machiavelli to Lincoln. Needless to say, there’s a lot to say.
Okay, now search for “leadership development.” Way to go, you’ve winnowed it down to only 20,000 books (or so). Again, thousands of people across thousands of years have documented their two cents on the subject. And while a search for “change management” produced only 10,000 titles, that subject is quickly playing catch-up.
As history has shown time and again, developing competent leaders is one of the quintessential ingredients for long-term success in any venture. Whether running a village or running a country, communities have prospered because a group of people had the derring-do to take the bull by the horns and the charisma to get others to grab on too.
With its org charts, corporate ladders, and division of labor, the workplace is one of the most visible embodiments of leadership in action. From orchestrating grand visions in the C-Suite to managing boots on the ground, the ability to lead others is critical for companies but something few people come by naturally. Leadership development is a skill that needs to be cultivated. Constantly.
Responsibility for this development is a two-way street. On the one hand, the employee must have the desire, coachability, and work ethic to become an effective leader. On the other, the employer has to put systems in place that facilitate employee growth and development. Doing so not only makes managers’ lives easier when it comes to workload and inevitable transitions, it makes them look good when their people are continually demonstrating they’re ready for the next step.
All of that said, turning employees into model leaders takes intention and dedication. But, rather than adding to the tens of millions of pages already written about the matter, we’ve compiled some of the more practical tips and advice currently making the rounds from today’s thought leaders. These have been distilled down into four main areas represented by four main articles from seasoned vets:
1) Understanding Leadership Personalities
2) Effective Management & Leadership
3) Building Authentic Relationships
4) Leadership Development & Change Management
Leadership expert Catherine Hayes puts a coaching spin on one of today’s top personality tests, the Enneagram. Similar in nature to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Enneagram categorizes individuals by their interactions with others. Hayes looks at the test through the lens of leadership. According to her experience, everyone displays to some degree each of the nine personality types assessed, but one in particular will be most dominant.
For instance, Reformers always get the job done right, but they have high standards. This sometimes leads to a lack of faith in others to meet those standards and therefore a lack of essential delegation. Meanwhile, Helpers are, as the name suggests, helpful and nurturing. Unfortunately, they’re a little too concerned with being perceived this way, which means they aren’t able to provide tough love when the situation calls for it. And then there are the Challengers. Strong leaders who are unafraid of the driver’s seat, Challengers occasionally default to bullying when they feel their authority or control is threatened.
Understanding these personality types along with their six cousins—Achiever, Individualist, Investigator, Loyalist, Enthusiast, and Peacemaker—offers a healthy sense of self-awareness. As Hayes says, “You can move up the levels of growth and ultimately lead from your best self.”
Additional insights about understanding leadership personality traits:
How the Enneagram Can Help You Become a Better Leader – Michael Hyatt, respected leadership mentor and former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, discusses his favorite resource on Enneagrams, The Road Back to You, and how it helps you evaluate the five conditions leaders must have to be effective.
The Combination to Your Team’s Recurring Problem: the Enneagram Personality Test – Former trial lawyer and CEO Jack Craven also praises the virtues of the Enneagram when it comes to leadership effectiveness and offers a case study of the test in action.
As the multi-talented founder of PDUs2Go.com, a mobile professional development firm specializing in project manager development, Jennifer Bridges understands what it means to be a strong manager versus a strong leader. The two aren’t the same, nor are they mutually exclusive. Rockstar leaders may be poor managers and vice versa.
When we talk about leaders, we’re not simply referring to the ivory tower. We’re talking about anyone whose role involves overseeing other people. Few individuals have the talent to lead a large team much less an entire company out of the gates. You need to build up to that level of responsibility, and part of this development involves solid people management.
Bridges specifically calls out 7 foundational skills good managers need to display: time management, communication, conflict resolution, team building, negotiation, task management, and organization. She also discusses the need for 10 “soft skills,” or intangibles that complement these technical abilities such as confidence, honesty, and reliability. According to Bridges, with these qualities in place, “A manager takes a person or enterprise from where they are to where they want to be.”
Additional insights about becoming an effective manager:
5 Steps to Develop Your Managers into Leaders – Marketing specialist Amanda Basse dives further into the differences between a manager and a leader and outlines five key things that need to happen for a manager to take on even bigger leadership roles.
5 Strategies That Will Turn Your Employees into Leaders – Avery Augustine, prolific author on employee development and management and frequent contributor to media outlets like Business Insider and The Muse, explains how employees with strong management skills excel at decision-making and are better equipped for advancement.
Founder of Leadership IQ, developer of the Science of Leadership Academy, and The New York Times bestselling author Mark Murphy knows a thing or two about how to lead others. In the course of his extensive research, Murphy has found that one-third of employees’ sense of loyalty to their employer has to do with trusting their leadership. Unfortunately, only one-fifth of employees do this wholeheartedly.
Trust is essential for healthy relationships of any kind. As a worker, if I’m not confident that my manager has my best interests in mind and a genuine desire to see me succeed, that impacts my motivation, expectations for upward mobility, and faith in the company at large.
One of the better relationship-building methods Murphy delves into is open communication. When employees approach their superiors with work problems, good leaders respond constructively, not critically, dismissively, or defensively. Exceptional leaders are also proactive when it comes to communication. Rather than using small talk like “How’s it going?”, Murphy encourages managers to ask pointed questions that elicit real information such as “What’s been getting in your way lately?” or “How can I best be helpful here?”
This kind of communication boosts morale, provides a safe forum for idea sharing, and demonstrates you believe in your people. In other words, “You’re establishing a relationship that feels more like equals than high-ranking boss and low-ranking employee.”
Additional insights about building authentic relationships:
Simple and Effective Leadership Skills That Few People Live – Organizational psychologist and top writer on Medium, Benjamin Hardy, quickly sums up how leadership is about relationships and why performance is positively impacted when this is the focus.
This Leadership Asset is the Key to Building a Team of Peak Performers – Leadership and performance consultant Malachi Thompson discusses the power of language in fostering workplace relationships that catalyze employees and open lines of communication.
America’s special forces are renowned for being the most elite military units on the planet, bar none. What many don’t realize is that much of what makes them so effective is not only their intense physical and technical training, but their intellect. So, when frogman-turned-consultant Brent Gleeson weaves in key learnings from his career as a Navy SEAL when discussing the need for leadership training ahead of constant and often difficult change management, smart executives listen closely.
Gleeson recounts the growing pains resulting from accelerated growth at one of his former companies. At a time when they were facing all kinds of hurdles from stretched resources to outgrown legacy systems to competing needs among teams, he recommended instituting new change management programs to better face these challenges.
Despite the pushback given what were perceived as more important priorities, once the collective mindset changed, leadership began to see how the fruits of its investment here far outweighed any initial pains associated with re-allocating budgets and resources.
Based on his experience leading missions during chaotic times, Gleeson knew that this was the best possible time to invest in their people. Under his guidance, they introduced tools like 360 Performance Review Software to course-correct and ingrain positive leadership habits during a critical period. “We can’t afford not to invest in these programs. If we don’t improve our ability to lead in dynamic situations, we will fail”, writes Gleeson.
Additional insights about change management and leadership development programs:
Keys to Developing Organizational Leaders – Executives at the Thayer Leader Development Group analyze how blue chip companies nurture workplace leadership and change management because they view their employees as the people who make the greatest impact and, like Gleeson, choose to invest in them.
13 Reasons to Offer Leadership Training and Development to Millennials – The Forbes Coaches Council explains how today’s workforce, particularly millennials, not only wants this type of training, but rewards employers who provide it through their subsequent performance and loyalty.
When it comes down to it, top talent wants to work for top leadership so that it can get there itself one day. In fact, it’s often been said that people leave managers, not jobs. If that’s true, then the vast majority of managers out there should take note. According to the 2016 McQuaig Global Talent Recruitment Report, only 25% of HR professionals said their leaders are very effective.
Sure you can give up on business altogether and go back to school for your PhD, or you can use this room for leadership improvement to your advantage. If you are one of the few who have the natural talents necessary to lead others (and if you’re reading this you are!), then you have a sacred responsibility to turn those talents into strengths and lead others to greatness.
David Mizne is Marketing Communications Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and reviews. David’s articles have also appeared on The Next Web & TalentCulture. Follow him @davidmizne.