The American politician and activist Ralph Nader neatly sums up the essence of leadership in his famous quote below:
I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.
A lot has been written on administration, management and leadership. Early books like On War (by Sun Tzu, 5th century BCE) and Arthashastra (by Chanakya, 3rd century BCE) to The Prince (by Niccolo Machiavelli, 16h century CE), discussed how to be a powerful king (and also use political subterfuge).
However, it was only in the 20th century that books focused on leadership in the context of business and the global marketplace, like In Search of Excellence (by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, 1982), Good to Great (by Jim Collins 2001) or Change Your World (by John C. Maxwell and Rob Hoskins, 2021).
Today’s organisations have to battle competition, deliver better governance and remain sensitive to consumer groups. That’s precisely why they need to groom leadership teams that will help businesses survive and grow amidst such challenges.
Developing leadership abilities and building effective teams is part science and it’s also a work in progress. Thankfully, processes and systems in modern organisations ensure that people can be effectively groomed to take up bigger roles.
A leader isn’t different from a team
Organisations aspire to outlive their founders and leaders by a wide margin, teams and leaders. However, there’s typically a cyclical pattern in this: Some people who are junior members of your team today will emerge as leaders of your organisation two decades later.
Importantly, the ability of the leaders you get two decades down the line largely depends on the quality of your leadership training you deliver today. That’s exactly why you want to get your leadership training right today.
Developing leadership and teams
Some businesses prefer nurturing talent in-house and avoid bringing in people from other outside. Other businesses are open to hiring people from outside. Either way, you’d still need to make sure they are properly onboarded at every stage and acclimated to fit your organisational culture.
To make sure your teams, irrespective of how long they’ve been with you, are continuously groomed for senior roles, you’ll need ideas on how to train for leadership skills.
Here are the top 7 tips on building great leaders and teams.
1. First, establish what leadership is
And what it isn’t. Unless you have a set of clear standards and associated skills, there’s no way you’ll be grooming your people the right way.
While a commonly accepted definition of leadership is a good place to start from, you’ll want to develop your own version, depending upon a host of factors like your organizational culture, size, priorities, products and capabilities.
As an example, the context for leadership for a business that’s looking to expand in a different geography is completely different from that of a business that’s struggling to remain relevant and profitable.
Once your destination is clear, it will be relatively easy for you to identify and muster the resources to take your people there.
2. Train for multiple cultures
Earlier, businesses that weren’t present in multiple countries didn’t have to worry about different cultures. Not so today.
Today, even if you’re a SaaS company based in, say, Kuala Lumpur, your customers could be global. Even if you’re a packaged food business operating only in three Australian states, you will still have a number of migrants working for you. And after the Corona pandemic has popularised the idea of work from home (WFH), there’s no way of saying what country your next employee will be working from.
Considering all this, you’ll have to emphasise on preparing your teams for multicultural scenarios. Leaders with better empathy will be in a much better position to take your organisation further in the coming years.
3. Ensure that they leverage technology
Alvin Toffler, the American futurist and writer, was among the first to foresee the deep impact technology would have on business and on our lives. He famously said: Technology feeds on itself. Technology makes more technology possible.
Virtually all young people today can use a smartphone, operate a laptop or browse the internet. Do not confuse it with the ability to understand technology. Just because your team is young doesn’t imply they fully understand the power of modern computing.
Leaders need to understand that technology is not an add-on to business, technology is business. Make sure you train your teams to work with and exploit the huge data processing capabilities of today’s technology platforms. Train them by giving various opportunities so that they learn how to do a webinar, how to leverage ML (Machine Learning) to improve process efficiency, how to extract market intel through data analytics and so on.
4. Ensure overall understanding of business
A future leader who works in the legal department should be eager to understand how their work impacts marketing. A product manager must be willing to understand the economics behind the entire business.
Help your teams understand how their work and decision impacts other departments, and therefore, the entire organisation. The earlier your teams begin to see the bigger picture, the better. A sales rep, for instance, who regularly tops in quarterly results but will not spend time to understand compliance challenges may not be CEO material.
Some organisations allow teams to move from one department to another primarily for this purpose. While it may or may not suit your business operationally, this is an exercise worth considering.
5. Expose them to real challenges
You also want to know their initiative and drive, because training can only achieve so much. Expose your teams to real-life situations and see how they perform outside their comfort zones.
Are they willing to fill their knowledge gaps? Are they resourceful when looking for solutions? Do they exhibit the enthusiasm of solving challenges?
Observe how they approach a challenge so that you can understand their problem-solving skills. See how they resolve interpersonal conflicts and it will tell you about their people skills. Let mentors offer them occasional guidance, but give them a great deal of free hand to see how they combat real-life situations.
6. It’s all about culture
Organisations, too often, forget to improve their culture even while spending huge resources on training, grooming and creating leaders for tomorrow. The outcomes, not surprisingly, are sadly predictable.
Peter Drucker got it right when he said ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. No matter how hard you try, a lot of things will still boil down to culture.
To get a quick overview of your organisational culture, ask yourself a few questions like:
- Do we encourage our people to take risks?
- What are our boundaries between processes and bureaucracy?
- When it comes to customer feedback, are our leaders open to hearing the bad news as well?
- Irrespective of whether we are market leaders or not, what kind of resources do we invest in product research?
- Are our people plainly compliant or are they truly committed to the organisational values and vision?
7. Exhibit clear opportunities
We’ve saved one of the most important parts of leadership training for the last. At the end of day, people you’re grooming for leadership roles want an answer to a basic question: How’s all this going to help me grow?
When you’re training your teams for leadership, you want to make the opportunities clear. What will a successful career path look like? Where would they ultimately land? What kind of future can they look forward to once they’re ready for a major leadership role?
This is important, because leaders are ambitious people who want transformation both at the organizational level as well as their personal level. When you take care of their aspirations, they’ll take care of the growth of your organization.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for your training needs. And because leadership is a lot about soft skills, how you design your grooming program will have to reflect whatever makes your business unique.
Training your teams for leadership roles is an important, strategic exercise. To a great extent, the future of your business depends on the training you feed to your current teams. So you don’t want to wait till you have everything perfect before you begin. It’s a great deal more sensible to refine what you have with you today, set a timeline and begin.
As you progress, you can make changes based on the new information you receive. But the whole point is you should implement leadership training right away.