Too Many Leaders?
In the past several years, I have run across a number of companies who struggle with the concept of leadership and leadership development. In fact, most people do not understand leadership. The typical response I receive when I mention leadership development is, “What are we going to do with all those leaders once we have developed them?” This is an interesting comment given that I have never run across a company who suffers from too many leaders. Most organizations struggle because they have too few leaders, particularly in times of change, growth or crisis.
I have searched for a sports analogy that addresses the issue of leadership development. Team sports are constantly struggling with the issue of leadership, as the success or failure of a team depends on the strength of its leadership. In sports, the challenge is different than it is in business because the coach knows his players are going to graduate, or suffer an injury. This means that coaches need to be constantly developing leaders. If sports teams are not constantly grooming new leaders and preparing them for leadership roles, they will fail in their attempt to win. Given this scenario, coaches dedicate a lot of time searching for and developing leadership. They cannot wait until a player is injured, or graduates, to begin to think of who will take their place.
What sports teams understand, but businesses frequently overlook, is that players do not have to have a title to take on a leadership role. In fact, some of the strongest leadership comes from players who do not play a high profile position. The same is true in business, but because most businesses do not understand leadership, they do not appreciate how damaging it can be when someone leaves who has been an inspiration to the team.
Although the impact of a loss of leadership is not as immediate in business, the consequences of not developing leaders are more damaging than the loss of a basketball game. Leaders need grooming in business the same way that they need grooming in sports. Leaders are constantly leaving companies due to retirement, death or a better job offer; unfortunately, their departures are not predictable. When a leader disappears the impact may not be noticeable at first, but the consequences are felt in lost revenue, lost productivity and lost opportunities. Companies can take months finding a replacement for a lost leader, and frequently end up pulling someone from another part of the company, which weakens that area as well.
The answer to the question: “What do we do with all those leaders?” should be obvious. You continue to develop them, give them opportunities to test their leadership skills with real world responsibilities, and help them develop the specific skills that will enable them to jump in when a crisis hits or when an opportunity arises. Leadership is a journey, not a destination.