Tapping the potential you already have

Written by Eddie Kilkelly on 27 March 2015

Perhaps it is a consequence of austerity but business seems to move much faster than it used to, a result perhaps of fewer people working harder and faster. Time feels in limited supply and attentions spans are definitely shrinking. In any business day, there are several competing priorities and making decisions about the use of your time is a critical skill. The amount of time you have to devote to each task feels restricted too and a work-life balance is for other people.

Ask any manager or leader in business and they would probably agree that this describes their working life and once on this vicious roundabout, it is hard to break free. If you operate in a project or programme environment this can be magnified as deadlines loom and delivery is your primary objective.

Recently, there has been a noticeable increase in job adverts particularly in the area of project management. Perhaps this signals a thawing in the economy and is a green shoot sign of recovery.  It certainly means that there will be more business change, more deadlines and more delivery.

How do we prepare to take advantage of this change? How will we cope with even more activity and is training the answer?

Technical specialists will always need to learn about new product versions. Technology moves at pace and keeping abreast of the latest technical developments requires a regular refresh if not substantial re-training. Newly-promoted managers will similarly need to be immersed in the techniques of management in order to make the transition into their new role.

Protecting your most valuable assets

So what happens to, arguably the most valuable assets in any organisation, those middle managers who are driving the business forward and working their way towards leadership? How do we develop them further to become the high performing leaders of the future?

According to Bersin, 83 per cent of companies are seriously worried about their leadership pipelines and only eight per cent have strong programmes to build leadership skills. In spite of these concerns, many companies are still not investing in leadership development programmes and are potentially storing up problems for the future.

If they are lucky enough to attend a training course our middle managers will notice that they too are shrinking.  The days of week long residential training courses are long gone and it is more likely as a manager that your training programme will be in multiples of hours more often than multiples of days. This often leaves just enough time to provide the nuggets of information that will explain the concepts, techniques and rationale of the subject. 

The context and practical application are often left up to the individual to work out later and in the margins.  Generally, as individuals, we are grateful for this because of all the reasons that are sapping our time each day.  The impact though is that little of the learning becomes fully embedded into the business.  In reality, a short workshop is often enough to explain but what is lacking is the support at the point of delivery when we need to apply the learning in practice.

Embedding the learning

If the practical application of learning is key to business change then how much effort do we invest in supporting the manager after they have attended a short workshop? Ideally managers will devote time and energy to help their own staff to put learning into practice, however, as you progress up the management chain, there is a greater expectation that you can “manage” this process on your own.  While in some cases this may be true, with competing pressures on time, this is rarely provides the optimal results.

As a direct result, executive coaching has steadily been increasing in popularity over the last few years and providing a sounding board for managers and leaders to practice what they have learned under the scrutiny of a critical eye. 

Linking this to a programme of short workshops ensures that learning is gradually, but strategically, added to the mix and the main focus becomes the changing behaviour. The coach can be a peer, a senior manager or a non-executive board director without looking externally for support. The safer the environment the more likely it is that it will be okay to make mistakes – the only way to really learn – and an opportunity to talk through plans and issues before putting them into action.

Bringing it all together into a holistic programme is rare but the unexpected bonus is the sense of being valued – singled out for special attention and invested in for an extended period. So how do you plan to develop your leadership potential this year?

Eddie Kilkelly is managing director at insynergi

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