You can’t build a strong house if you don’t have support at each level. If you are an HGTV junkie like me, then you know the idea of “open concept” (think of a first floor in a house that is really just one big room with kitchen/dining room/living defined spaces vs walls) is still popular, and it often requires removal of walls.
Making sure the wall being removed isn’t load bearing, meaning supporting the overall weight of the house above it, is critical to avoid creating that desired open space only to have your house collapse in the future. Here’s the thing. Having reinforced support instinctively is part of physical construction, but we often don't consider it when we build leadership structures in our organizations.
Why do we create leadership structures without making sure we've planned enough ongoing support for the leaders who are carrying the load of our business?
It isn’t news that the skills that get people promoted into leadership roles aren't always the ones needed to be successful leaders. Too often we leave those leaders to find their own way, and without guidance and resources they don't always get there on their own. Regardless of company size, there are typically four primary pain points in an organization where lack of leadership development can start to cause problems – initial promotion to leadership, rising middle leaders, high potential leaders and executive/C-suite leaders. All of these leadership positions should be considered load bearing leaders that need to be developed and reinforced in order to continually support your business.
Most companies can do more leadership development at all points, but the biggest missed opportunity that I see with my clients is in the middle. Middle leaders – Senior Managers, Directors/Senior Directors, and possibly recently promoted VPs in some bigger companies – are critical load bearing leaders holding up organizations. They translate important strategy from above into objectives for their team below them to achieve, yet are often given less development than the senior leadership or new managers they are squeezed between.
Think about the leadership structure in your business, and how you develop your leaders. Do you have…
Consistent first-time leader training to help those moving from individual contributor to a leadership role add the new skills it takes to lead their teams?
Experienced manager training and/or coaching for leaders who have a few years of leadership under their belts, and are moving into more leadership responsibility and strategic decision making?
An approach to identifying and supporting your high potential leaders so you retain them and prepare them to be effective as you position them to be leaders of your future?
Executive coaching and ongoing skill building aligned to being successful in their role as the decision and strategy maker at the top?
If you answered no to one or more of these questions, you are taking a risk with your business.
Did you answer yes to some and no to others? Then you know where you need to focus more resources. Unless you said a confident yes to each question, instead of load bearing leaders you potentially have leaders who aren’t ready to do what you need them to do.
How can you know if your leaders need more leadership skills?
In a house, a sagging ceiling might be a symptom that you need more structural support. In business, they symptoms might be less visually obvious, but not that difficult to find. Any of the below sound familiar?
First time leaders frustrating their teams because they consistently micromanage or do the work themselves instead of delegating to and empowering their team.
Middle level leaders who can’t clearly communication strategy to their teams resulting in a lack of results that slows down business progress.
Loss of precious time and money to replace your high potential leaders after they leave for organizations who recognize their value and are ready to give them the training and support they need to shine.
An executive who is creating friction and lack of trust because their leadership style was effective in their pre-executive leadership roles, but doesn't work now.
These are all symptoms of leaders put in load bearing leadership positions without the support they need.
Luckily, just like home builders and renovators can replace a load bearing wall with a strong beam that keeps the structural support while providing the open space, there are many approaches to leadership development to reinforce the skills of your leaders. While building out a long-term, comprehensive, multi-tiered leadership development program is great, there are plenty of small, quick approaches to consider at each leadership point that you can start doing right now.
FIRST TIME LEADERS don’t know what they don’t know and will often feel like they need to be the expert and have all the answers, leading to frustration for them and their teams when they run into an unfamiliar challenge. What can you do? Create a mentorship program that pairs all newly promoted leaders with an experienced leader so they have someone who has walked that path before and can help them avoid some of the early leadership pitfalls.
MIDDLE LEADERS have to learn to stop “doing” the work and need to be able to inspire and empower others to do the job as well as they might be able to do it themselves. What can you do? Offer training that helps them learn to coach their teams and adjust their leadership styles as needed in their broadening role.
HIGH POTENTIAL LEADERS will be most effective for you as your company’s next great leaders if you help them get a bigger picture perspective and the ability to think strategically beyond their area of expertise. What can you do? Find cross-functional projects for them to get involved with to learn other parts of your business so they can begin connecting the dots.
EXECUTIVES can find it is lonely at the top, yet they often most need someone to be a mirror for them and help them navigate leadership challenges. What can you do? Find a good leadership coach to work with them, preferably outside of your company, and that coach can help them gain and process feedback and awareness they need to adjustments as needed to how they lead.
Making sure you’ve developed load bearing leaders at all points in your organization will pay off today and for years to come.