How many great leaders do you know? One very real issue for organizations is identifying leaders who have the capacity to lead, motivate and stimulate the workforce of an organization. Leading an organization is no simple task, not least because of the issue of needing to satisfy the business drivers as well as the people drivers.
Daniel Goleman's book The New Leaders emphasizes this point and some of the challenges faced by leaders in today's business environment:
At 'built to last' companies, which have thrived over decades, the ongoing development of leadership marks a cultural strength as well as the key to continued business success. In a time when more and more companies are finding it difficult to retain the most talented and promising employees, those companies that provide their people nourishing development experiences are more successful in creating loyal employees. In short the coaching style may not scream 'bottom-line results' but, in a surprising indirect way, it delivers them.
In Goleman's earlier book Working with Emotional Intelligence (1999) he quotes a landmark study of top executives who have derailed. The two most common traits of those who failed were:
Rigidity: They were unable to adapt their style to changes in the organisational culture, or they were unable to take in or respond to feedback about traits they needed to change, or improve. They couldn't listen, or learn.
Poor relationships: The single most frequently mentioned factor; being too harshly critical, insensitive, or demanding, so that they alienated those they worked with.
He contrasted this with star performers: 'Superior performers intentionally seek out feedback, they want to hear how others perceive them, realising that this is valuable information. That may also be part of the reason people who are self-aware are better performers. Presumably their self-awareness helps them in a process of continuous improvement.' Knowing their strengths and weaknesses and approaching their work accordingly was a competence found in virtually all star performers in a study of several hundred 'knowledge workers' carried out by Carnegie-Mellon University. The authors of the study stated, 'Stars know themselves well.'
Goleman further develops this theme in The New Leaders, suggesting that the singular talent that set the most successful CEOs apart from others turned out to be a critical mass of emotional intelligence competencies. He suggests that the most successful CEOs spent more time coaching their senior executives, developing them as collaborators and cultivating personal relationships with them. From a business perspective, he suggests that those companies where the CEO exhibited EI strengths were the ones where profits and sustained growth were highest, significantly higher than for companies where the CEOs lacked those strengths. He also cites the following research:
In a tight labor market, when people have the ability to get an equivalent job easily, those with bad bosses are four times more likely to leave than those who appreciated the leader that they worked for... Interviews with 2 million employees at 700 American companies found that what determines how long employees stay - and how productive they are - is the quality of their relationship with their immediate boss. 'People join companies and leave managers' observed Marcus Buckingham of the Gallup Organization who analysed the data.
Traditionally organizations have struggled with innovative and creative people, yet look what James Dyson, Ricardo Semler, Richard Branson and Julian Richer have done for their people, their customers and their businesses. Another question in the Managing the Mavericks (Thorne, 2003b) research was: 'If you could change one aspect of organizations that would encourage the nurturing of talent, what would you recommend?' Here is a sample of the responses:
'Senior managers being prepared to step outside their conventional modus operandi and/or being prepared to tolerate and/or support others to do so.'
'Leadership needs to drive the harnessing of human talent - most companies don't have leaders that understand how to do this.'
'Flexibility - understanding that following the "way we do things here" is a recipe for stagnation.'
'Recognition (not necessarily reward) for the value they deliver.'
'More honest feedback on a regular basis, to encourage and reinforce positive risk taking.'
'Let people work when and where they think they can offer the greatest potential. It always amazes me that more companies do not let their staff work from home now and again. So much more can be achieved and when they are away from the office and the confines of "its" thinking they can open their mind to thinking in other ways.'
'I can tell from my personal experience, the one thing that the organization must do to nurture talent is to provide challenge to the individual, continuous challenge of the individual that stretches him/her to their wits' end is the best "mantra" to nurture talent in the organization.'
'Keep management systems simple - the flow chart should fit on one side of A4 in a minimum 12-point font!'
'Reward on the basis of contribution to ideas and results rather than on grade/project profile/targets alone.'
'Values - which is a form of belief. If you believe your people are creative, then guess what? You act that way. Then guess what? They act that way.'
'Not overloading people with routine or administrative work. Giving them time to dream.'
In a talent management survey carried out as part of the research for Talent Management (Woodhouse and Thorne, 2003), when respondents were asked what support they wanted from a line manager there was remarkable similarity in their responses.
Open and honest feedback was high on the agenda, and there was an important link between freedom to operate and clear goals and expectations. Building of relationships between individuals and their manager is also important, particularly the nature of that relationship. Words used were 'ability to listen, to coach, to offer support coupled with loyalty, trust and integrity'. Alignment of values was also important. One very evocative statement summed up the thoughts of many: 'Foster an environment in which individuals are valued, talent is exposed, nurtured and allowed to fly.'
What is interesting is the balance between freedom and systems. One of the very real issues in large organizations is tracking people. Very often individuals feel that their talents go unnoticed. Equally there are very real concerns that the middle management layer hides and diffuses the impact of real talent. This frustrates both senior management despairing of the lack of initiative and potential within their organization and those new and embryonic talents that get held back because their views may be different from the accepted norm. This was echoed by one of the respondents who recognized that perhaps he hadn't shouted loudly enough - 'my reluctance to shout about my talents means that nobody notices'. What he was looking for was 'real appreciation of my worth by people who are interested in me'.
Equally the importance of ongoing conversations was highlighted: 'Clarity around understanding expectations of individuals and matching these to organizational requirements and having a "real" conversation about this.'
Leaders who coach naturally have an immense contribution to make, and not just in their day-to-day interaction with others, but the more senior they are the more influence they will have on the climate and culture of the overall organization.
Another question asked as part of the research for Managing the Mavericks (Thorne, 2003b) was 'What advice would you have for CEOs in terms of nurturing talent?' The common advice to CEOs was as follows:
Get close to your people; give commitment; follow through; don't give out mixed messages; allow communication to come up through middle management, but actively seek it; don't allow it to be changed and modified by those who do not want others to hear.
Use your people; they are your greatest asset; they are the lifeblood of your organization; much innovation can be generated within; light the candles; encourage the 'speak-up' culture for good or bad. Encourage honest feedback; develop real action from their views; don't ever just take it and do nothing; be seen to respond. Some CEOs find it easier to stick with what is known, rather than attempt to convince long-serving people of the need to change. Some executives are daunted by the size of the task, and the speed of change; some simply hope that, if they ignore it, by some miracle the market will change and the problem will go away.
Innovative organizations do not waste time polishing yesterday's apple; instead they are searching for the apple of the future. Be proud of your achievements; share the excellence and move ahead again.