Too often I see leaders and their businesses adopt a scarcity mindset when it comes to talent. They accept the view that an extremely small portion of their workforce is “high potential”, while others are deemed not to be.
The idea that talent is scarce was made popular by the McKinsey article, The War for Talent, in the late 90s. This drove an intensive focus on identifying and developing the precious few needed to lead the future of any business.
Twenty years and trillions of dollars spent on leadership assessment and development later, CEOs still identify gaps in leadership and a shortage of leadership talent among their top concerns. Every survey published shows growing employee disengagement and intentions to leave. Perhaps an unintended consequence of our scarcity mindset for talent is a scarcity of leadership.
This article is the first in a short series sharing my views on how companies can embrace an abundance mindset towards leadership and leadership development. When we do this, we build the critical capabilities an organisation requires for performance, transformation and growth.
Let me start with a simple definition of leadership as the act of driving a collective effort to succeed. “Leadership” is not a set of competencies, nor is it a charismatic idol. In every business, from start- ups to established multinational corporations, we need collective leadership to ensure the business and its employees can succeed today and in the future.
Once we define leadership this way, it is pretty clear that every business needs individual and collective capabilities that will deliver results today while building capabilities for tomorrow. At the same time, these businesses will fail without capabilities that energise, engage and enlist diverse employees, customers, partners and investors. Businesses need these capabilities at all levels and in all functions – not just in the most senior management or commercial functions.
The first step in embracing an abundance mindset about leadership is learning how to “grow in the flow” of daily work. In other words, learning how to develop anyone, anytime, anywhere. An individual contributor can learn this for themself, while managers have the responsibility and even the duty to teach this to their team and to role model this practice to others.
The idea that we can learn anytime and anywhere is not a new one, and I’m indebted to my colleagues Morgan McCall and David Day who started to teach us about the importance of learning and development through experience decades ago. Today, many of us are familiar with the idea of “70-20-10” as a way to describe the relative importance of experience, learning from others and learning through formal instruction, respectively.
Sadly, the reality today is that most experience is wasted as a catalyst for development, and few of us understand intuitively how to grow in the flow. In the world of leadership development, 70-20-10 is often translated into massively expensive and time-consuming programmes that involve a tiny number of employees. To the rest of the employee population, 70-20-10 means vague guidelines on how to build a good development plan.
Let me share three simple ways you can start to put an abundance mindset to work today:
1. Empower others to build leadership muscles
A few years ago I wrote about the fabulous growth leader Dan Neary in my book, Pacing for Growth: Why Intelligent Restraint Drives Long-Term Success. Dan, who heads Facebook for the Asia Pacific region, says: “I focus on doing my job and I let my team do theirs." Dan is giving his people one of the best resources for them to develop: decision-making authority and responsibility.
Dan doesn't make decisions for his team and he doesn't micromanage them to make the "right" decisions. Dan typically shows up to a meeting he has scheduled along with one of his team. In the meeting, he delegates. He gives clear instruction, and hands over to the person in the meeting without delay.
The ability to make good decisions and take ownership are two leadership muscles almost anyone can develop. But, like any muscle, they need to be exercised. Everyday we have the opportunity to help people around us build these critical leadership capabilities so they can be successful.
2. Make meetings matter
When you spend more than half your time in meetings, exchanging information that could be ingested more easily in writing, you have wasted a huge amount of time and energy. Odds are, you also have lost the opportunity for the meeting to really matter – for it to make a difference in shaping behaviour or to use the experience to build new leadership muscles.
I use a simple framework for my meetings and ask my team to do the same. This involves defining four Ps: purpose, process, people and payoff. Use these questions to get more from your meetings and to build leadership capacity by increasing efficiency and effectiveness:
These days many of us spend so much of our days on Zoom or Teams in meeting after meeting.
Technology makes it easy to disengage people, include too many people, or waste time due to lack of preparation because everything is scheduled back-to-back. By making meetings matter, we can build collective leadership muscles to solve real problems and identify solutions requiring diverse inputs.
3. Perfect the pause
The most popular rule of intelligent restraint in Pacing for Growth is clearly “exert then recover”. No athlete improves by overtraining and wearing down their body. No human improves their performance by burning out or failing to recover from a tough slog at work. In sport, active recovery is about training at a lower pace to allow the body (and mind!) to recover. The same is true at work.
Building leadership muscles takes time over many years, and we must learn and teach others how to exert ourselves to deliver results over periods of time full of challenge and ambiguity. Then we must pause. The development doesn’t happen during the exertion; it comes during the pause. We must create space for it and we must design for it to happen.
So what characterises the perfect pause? Consider this:
We are all busy. The world conspires to convince us that if we just do more, be more, and deliver more, we will succeed. But when we elevate the role of the pause, we open the door to converting every experience into a learning opportunity.
These three ideas are just a starting point and I will continue to share my views on how we can use an abundance mindset to build leadership in everyone, everytime, everywhere. Leadership development cannot be a reward to a chosen few. If we want to bridge the leadership gap, we need to be far more inclusive in the way we ration support to build leadership muscles in employees from the day they join us to the day they leave us.
Now more than ever, the world needs stronger leadership in every organisation, no matter how small or large. We need it across every industry. We need it in education. We need it in healthcare. We need it in the public sector. We cannot afford to wait.
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Produgie is software with embedded analytics that equips leaders and teams to leverage experience and build the mindsets, capabilities and culture required for business performance and growth. Produgie allows businesses to drive outcomes and to scale growth leadership capabilities affordably.