It’s time to build leadership bench strength, says Melanie Lepine, in this new premium content piece unlocked for all.
‘We are living in unprecedented times’ – probably one of the most popular phrases of 2020 and perhaps one of the phrases that we should listen to most carefully when we are thinking about our leadership population.
This group of people, whether they be front-line leaders or our most senior executives are now leading within that context – their world has changed, their people have changed and everything they knew to be true about themselves and their surroundings has likely also changed.
So how do we build our leadership bench strength, ensuring we have a strong pipeline of leaders who are developed and supported to continue to grow and become the best leaders they can be, equipped and prepared for whatever the future may bring?
We need to start with identifying what we believe makes a great leader – for me, it is authenticity and warmth, coupled with transparency and empowerment; someone who allows me autonomy whilst still maintaining a strong partnership.
I’m sure we all have our own views on what matters to us individually, but to create bench strength within our leadership population, we need to define as an organisation what great leadership looks like to us, what we want to achieve and how that ties in with our culture and values.
To lead in these unprecedented times takes a high level of emotional intelligence, not only self awareness to understand how we are reacting to these challenges ourselves, but an ability to connect with our teams (often virtually at the moment) on a deeper level, supporting them to evolve their ways of working and understand their new context as well as to understand themselves.
We need to define as an organisation what great leadership looks like to us, what we want to achieve and how that ties in with our culture and values.
Assuming that all of your team are still the same people after these life-changing months can only result in frustration and disappointment: we need to get to know them all over again, listening closely and looking with fresh eyes.
Now more than ever, a sense of clear purpose helps our leaders to set vision and enables them to help their teams to find the value in their work, it helps to drive engagement as well as providing an ‘anchor’ to which our teams can focus during challenging times.
The activities we are doing may constantly change, and the ‘how’ we get to our result will certainly alter, but the ultimate purpose remains the same. Our leadership teams need to understand this nuance and be willing and able to help their teams do the same.
Knowing that the world is ever changing our leaders need to be able to empower their teams to ask questions and be curious, get creative and work in an agile way to ensure that everyone can navigate the changing times, future proofing themselves and their organisations.
Once we are clear on what those leadership traits look like, we can effectively build them into every step of the employee lifecycle – attraction, development, performance management, engagement and recognition etc.
One of the things that has come up in many of my recent discussions is the ‘SME’ syndrome, often seen at front-line leader level, but equally noticable at director level, people are brilliant at doing their current role – a great salesperson, a content expert, a thought leader for their specialism – and because they do so well, they are promoted into a leadership role, which requires vastly different skills for which they are not so adept – or perhaps not even interested.
To improve our leadership bench strength, we need to ensure the leadership skills we defined help to inform our thinking about the talent across our organisation – ensuring people are clear on what leadership excellence looks like – and that we are recognising and celebrating leaders who are exemplifying those behaviours, and holding them up as role models.
Equally, we need to be holding our leaders to account when they are not role modelling.
We should also be developing appropriate talent and development programmes to build those skills at every level of the organisation – a golden thread which links all of our leaders together. As we think about creating leaders across our organisation and building that capability at every level, another area of consideration is how we balance the internal v external acquisition of our leaders.
Our internally developed leaders bring with them a wealth of organisational savvy and cultural awareness that their external counterparts may not have, however they could be more tied to the current ways of working and have some political biases that an external leader would not.
An external leader might bring a fresh pair of eyes and additional industry knowledge, but would need more immersive onboarding to develop the business and cultural knowledge. Personally, I don’t feel there is a definitive % split that is right for every business, but a strong balance makes sense.
An ability to personalise that attraction, engagement and development process is essential, ensuring the leadership skills we defined are clearly signposted throughout the process.
What is important is that we focus on being able to develop broadly across all areas of the business and that we are building great coaching discussions into our leadership toolbox to ensure that our teams feel they are able to develop and know how best to go about this.
Finally, there needs to be transparency to really develop a strong sense of leadership across the organisation, people need to know what is going on around them in order to take ownership, build strategy and engage their people, they need to have exposure to the conversations that are happening at a more senior level – what is on the agenda of the board and exec committee.
They also need to have a good understanding of how they are perceived, a culture where feedback is readily given and warmly received can only enhance our leader’s self awareness and when provided objectively and constructively can be transformational in the leadership space and across the organisation, building trust, empowering our people and ultimately driving results.
In summary, by defining within your organisation what great leadership looks like, by building that into your attraction, retention and development plans, people will better understand what excellence looks like.
By recognising and rewarding our strongest leaders, others will follow and mimic that great role modelling, by empowering those leaders to share their skills, share their vision, and take people with them on the journey, you will build bench strength at every level of the organisation and in turn, will engage and retain your best to drive performance across your business.
About the author
Melanie Lepine is head of learning and devlopment at CBRE Workplace Solutions