Buidling Leaders at All Levels

Companies that have a network of leaders throughout the organization are the ones most likely to thrive.

In an unpredictable economy, companies that have a network of leadersthroughout the organization are the ones most likely to thrive. Employees whoare given the opportunity to develop leadership skills are more inclined to takeresponsibility and feel pride in their work. When they are empowered to makedecisions and be accountable for their actions, potential leaders take ownershipin the success of the company, and often become superior performers.

“The velocity of business is increasing and the pace of change has pickedup,” says Jim Concelman, manager of leadership development at the Pittsburghoffice of DDI, an employee selection and development company. An employee’sability to make independent decisions is especially critical as products andcustomer expectations evolve. In the wake of this change, the role of leadershipis shifting as well, Concelman says. Front-line employees are expected to leadteams, mid-level managers are heading up strategic initiatives, and downsizedstaffs are expected to take responsibility for more work with less guidance.

These new opportunities call for more than management skills. They alsorequire managers to arouse enthusiasm and establish an environment of respectand dependability, in which employees are encouraged and expected to contributetheir opinions.

Historically, leadership development has been limited to the executive teamand the few up-and-coming people who are groomed to replace them. That was finein an economy in which the core business strategy could go unchanged for years and a stablecorporate culture was the mainstay of success. This strategic model is no longerviable. Today, employees are given leadership titles and expected to figure outhow to handle their new roles, but aren’t effectively trained. Not surprisingly, they oftenflounder. The title “leader” in many organizations is met with scorn whenthe person assigned to the role has no idea how to behave in the new position.

“Offering leadership training is not just a feel-good issue, it’s acritical business strategy,” says Will Pilder, senior vice president ofKnowledgePool Americas, a talent-management company in Nyack, New York. Ascompanies battle for customer loyalty and new products emerge weekly, employeesmust have a developed set of leadership skills to foster the balance betweenfreedom and reliability.

A successful leader must be able to communicate, motivate, and solveproblems, Concelman says. But many managers aren’t getting the necessarysupport to develop these skills. “Managers are taught to do things by thebook, whereas leaders need to think of new ways to do things,” he says. “Thetwo skill sets are somewhat contradictory.”

Jon Katzenbach, senior partner of Katzenbach Partners LLC, a performanceconsulting firm in New York City, adds that leadership is about more thanfollowing a set course. “It’s a mind-set of adaptive responsiveness.” Thisquality is particularly important at the front lines, where performance isdirectly linked to a leader’s ability to inspire a team, and a service rep’s freedom torespond to unique customer needs can make or break a company’s reputation.

“Everyone benefits from leadership development,” Pilder says. It promptsemployees to work harder for the company and set more challengingcareer-development goals; it teaches managers to be better coaches to their owndirect reports; and it prepares the entire population to react more effectivelyto a shifting workplace environment.

“Leadership at every level is the only way to infuse an organization withthe values and morale to maintain productivity, even in the face of change,”Pilder says. It’s also the most effective succession-planning technique. Nolonger can you groom one individual for a specific job; you must have a pool oftalented people who can assume any leadership role when the need arises, hesays. When companies downsize or management positions open, companies must havethe skills and in-house experience to respond to the change immediately.

Workforce, October 2002, pp. 82-84Subscribe Now!