2013 promises to be one of the most challenging years yet for Leadersand HR pros as they are forced to pick a path around healthcare regulations that haven’t been written, some level of tax reform that hasn’t been defined (er, Simpson-Bowles anyone?) and employee frustration with lack of growth, potential loss of benefits, and dimming hopes of retirement. Whatever your politics, we’re all in the same boat, and it’s listing badly. The leader’s seat is still vacant. Can you believe it?
Take a look at this 2012 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey, Challenges Facing HR Over the Next 10 Years, and ‘developing leaders’ takes the number two spot of concerns HR must address as identified by 52 percent of respondents. This is a big jump from the 2010 survey, in which a mere 29 percent of respondents named leadership development a pressing HR challenge. In business, as in the rest of life, leadership skills are critical now more than ever.
Taking the number one spot in the SHRM survey with 60 percent of respondents is ‘retaining and rewarding the best employees’. This makes sense as a lead-in, since I’d argue the best employees are leaders – people leaders, management leaders, creative leaders, technical leaders or sales leaders. We need to fill the leadership gap, and fast.
Let’s look at the top five challenges to developing leaders and think a bit about how to address them. Here are five must haves for every leader – let’s start a revolution right now:
1) Invest in leadership development. Whether you believe leaders are born or made, companies still need to invest in their best employees to develop and sustain leadership qualities. We’re not talking advanced training in PowerPoint here; it’s a good tool, but at best it’s a tool. Real leadership training involves exposing your best employees to an immersive leadership environment, e.g. Harvard’s Executive Education Program or similar programs offered by MIT, the Kellogg School of Management, Wharton and other top universities. It’s a big investment, but it’s a form of long-term planning: build the best team you can, then invest to make them better. Your people will recognize the investment in them, and both the business and the individual will reap the rewards.
2) Create a culture of collaboration. Leaders are at their best when the company culture demands collaboration. Rewarding individual success is necessary but not sufficient. Only in a culture of collaborators will organizations have developing leaders working together to bring other employees up and into the circle of leadership.
3) Develop communications skills. We may expect our leaders to be good communicators but too often it’s not the case. Communication styles vary widely; what may work for one organization may not work for another. This is part of developing a company culture: you need to set the bar high for communications skills, give people training where they come up short, and correct style mis-matches before harm is done. Good communicators build teams and trust; poor communicators create and feed uncertainty.
4) Drive and sustain real accountability. Leaders must be accountable. They can’t be like Homer Simpson (DO’H! It was like that when I got here – it ain’t my problem!); they must own the problems they need to solve and own their failures to be credible when claiming success.
5) Be human and reward emotional intelligence. Yes, I’m a huge fan of emotional intelligence; yes, it belongs on any ‘top five’ leadership traits list. As organizations work with emerging leaders HR must stay focused on helping new leaders hone their emotional intelligence. This is crucial. Leaders be human please.
Finally, Leaders and HR people must act now to advocate for employees of all levels – we too must be leaders.
HR and leaders alike have many responsibilities. Maybe among the most important is developing the next generation of leaders and being more innovative as times change rapidly before our eyes. Where would you start? I’d love to know.