19. Invest in People – 21 Success Sutras for Leaders

Chapter Nineteen

Invest in People

Leaders who tend only to business often end up losing the people and the business. But leaders who tend to the people usually build up the people—and the business


John C. Maxwell

Previously, machines were treated as superior to men. Currently, men are treated as superior to machines. Machines deliver goods at the push of buttons. However, men cannot do the same. Human beings are different and difficult to manage as they have different feelings, emotions and egos. Organizations realized the importance of precious human resources and started providing people with regular training to develop their skills and abilities constantly. With the rapid growth in technology, it has become tough to predict the needs of people. Hence, there is an urgent need to train and groom precious human resources to predict and accomplish the growing expectations of customers. In this chapter, we will discuss leadership training and development.

McKinsey Trends Quarterly reveals, ‘Most CEOs are boomers, and an impending leadership crisis is coming.’1 It further states that in the next five years, as many as half the senior managers will be leaving. This report appears strange, right? But it is a fact. Other surveys reveal that the average term of office of a CEO has decreased from eight years to less than five, indicating the immediate and urgent need to groom leaders for top slots.

Imagine that one fine day, the key senior-most executive leaves the company for better pastures, leaving the company in the lurch. What will the company do? Will it shut shop? The company should not become rudderless, right? It should not become like a ship without a captain.

As you cannot hand over the keys of your car to a person who does not know how to drive, you cannot hand over the reins of your company to a person who is not equipped with leadership qualifications and competencies. Therefore, we need to train and groom people as leaders before handing over the reins. Leadership development is the mantra for employees who have a high potential to take on corporate battles with confidence and mettle. Designing the right leadership development programme (LDP) is the key to successful leadership development to ensure desirable outcomes.

LDP Objectives

True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers not the enrichment of the leaders.

Robert Townsend

The objectives of any LDP are to work out and create a strategy to build leaders as per the organizational goals and objectives. It must help to check attrition and enhance the retention of potential employees. LDP involves content preparation, training and grooming, feedback, and finally, keeping them ready to take on the corporate battles and challenges. It must be in tune with talent management, leadership succession and the leadership pipeline. The bottom line is to ensure a seamless supply of leadership talent to avert any kind of organizational eventuality.

LDP Preparation

Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.

Samuel Johnson

Before you conduct LDP, be clear about the content to be covered as per the profile of the audience. The profile of the audience includes the educational background, culture, gender, ethnicity and level of position, as it helps you to understand and create content to match the needs. In addition, find out the duration of the programme as you need to cater to the content within the duration without compromising quality.

While designing the LDP, companies must clearly specify the expected leadership standards, behaviours, skills and abilities vis-a-vis its employees in order to develop them as leaders. This is the first step towards leadership building. Failure to do so will result in the wastage of precious time, money and energy for companies. Therefore, find out the relevant areas to be covered. Explore those areas to include new information, knowledge, skills and abilities. If you give what others give, you join the rat race. Hence, look at innovative ways to design the content to stand out from others for effective leadership take-aways. Put precisely, LDP must be intensive, provocative and highly challenging.

LDP Content Plan

The LDP must be aligned with the vision and mission of the organization. It is the base on which the training process must start. In addition, find out whether the LDP is for filling the performance gap areas or the growth areas. The content preparation is different for gap areas and growth areas. If it is for gap areas, find out the gaps and create the content adequately for filling them. If it is for growth areas, find out the next level the people will move up to, and prepare content in those areas.

The ideal content plan for LDP is as follows:

  • Strategy
  • Communication
  • Managing change
  • Power presence
  • Diversity
  • Coaching
  • Mentoring
  • Business etiquette
  • Ethics
  • Personality development
  • Kirkpatrick’s evaluation

In addition, it must focus on both soft and hard skills, the former emphasizing behavioural aspects and the latter, the domain competence. Blending both soft and hard skills helps in creating smart leaders. The duration of the programme usually lasts for five days. The outlined plan is only a tentative one and must be tailored as per the profile of the audience, budget of the company, the availability of time, and other factors.

While delivering the content, it is essential to use different methods such as lectures, case studies, role play, behavioural role modelling and simulations. The first three methods, that is, lectures, case studies and role play, are usually adopted everywhere. Hence, emphasize on behavioural role model and simulations to bring about behavioural changes, as leadership mostly deals with behaviour.

LDP Execution

If you want to make minor, incremental changes and improvements, work on practices, behavior or attitude. But if you want to make significant, quantum improvement, work on paradigms.

Dr Stephen Covey, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness

Be clear about the programme and analyse the profile of the audience. Find out what the audiences expect and prepare the content accordingly. The success of any programme depends on sharing what is essential to the audiences rather than sharing what one is comfortable with. Why do some training programmes fail? The answer is simple: they deliver what they know, not what the audiences want.

Always present the benefits the audience gains during the presentation as it enhances their attention and increases their respect for the trainer and the content. No one cares how big you are until they know how strong you are in your domain.

Deliver content that is relevant, unique and innovative. Do not give what others give; provide something different and unique so that you can stand out. While delivering the content, it is essential to cover it from three perspectives—length, breadth and depth. Length includes covering the content from multiple perspectives. Breadth includes covering it broadly through illustrations, case studies, activities, and experiential and blended learning. Finally, depth means covering the content from a research perspective with substantial learning and takeaways.

Make use of innovative and varied instructional methods to attract the attention of the audience. Adopt these instructional methods in accordance with the learning styles of the audience. Change the instructional style as per the body language and the mood of the audience. Use film clippings, power point presentations, role plays and interactive methods as per the profile and the mood of the audience.

As feedback is the breakfast of champions, provide a feedback form at the end to find out the takeaways from the participants. This will clearly spell out the pulse of the people and help you to do better in the next programme.

LDP and Action Learning

Action Learning is an approach to the development of people in organizations which takes the task as the vehicle for learning. It is based on the premise that there is no learning without action and no sober and deliberate action without learning.

Mike Pedler (1991; http://doc.utwente.nl/499337l/implementing_collaborative.pdf)

As a method, Action Learning has three major components: (i) People who accept responsibility for taking action on any particular issue; (ii) The task that people set themselves; (iii) A set of colleagues (around six) who support and challenge each other, thereby making progress. Professor Reginald Revans, the brain behind this concept, developed it in the UK in the 1940s. Action Learning helps tremendously in leadership development in cases where the participants are mature and experienced individuals, who do not need spoon-feeding. It is the key component for leadership development programmes.

Action learning is learning by doing, where people learn through their experiences, thus improving their performance. It helps to relate the reel content with real life, enhances awareness, makes the learning process more disciplined and focused, and boosts the overall confidence of the participants. Normally, it is conducted in small groups where people carry out certain activities and tasks under the supervision of a facilitator, who moderates and corrects the behaviour of the participants. It is a behavioural aspect. It does not involve the mere sharing or acquiring of knowledge. It is an extension of traditional learning. In traditional classroom learning, participants only acquire knowledge. However, in action learning, participants acquire skills and abilities to execute their tasks effectively and efficiently.

Action learning helps to pave the way for building strong leaders by ensuring two things: enabling executives to take action, and developing skills and abilities. Since the process involves learning by doing and learning by action, people internalize the tools and techniques, and skills and abilities, thus closing the gap between theory and practice and building leadership skills and abilities. It helps in understanding and executing tasks quickly. Learning theory might make people think that they know everything. But in action learning, people are involved actively, and hence they empathize and appreciate activities well and know where they stand in terms of performance.

Learning Leadership

Leadership is not something that you learn once and for all. It is an ever-evolving pattern of skills, talents, and ideas that grow and change as you do.

Sheila Murray Bethel

Learning leadership involves both theoretical aspects and practical activities. You need to be equipped with the theoretical concepts in order to experiment in your real life environment. As William Bolitho rightly stated in Twelve against the Gods (1929), ‘The most important thing in life is not to capitalize on your successes …. The really important thing is to profit from your mistakes.’ Therefore, learn lessons from your experience. However, the theoretical concepts that you learn from various sources will help you to minimize mistakes, thus enhancing your success rate as an effective leader.

People learn about leadership from multiple sources, such as books, by observing leaders both inside and outside the workplace, and through trial and error methods. You can perfect your leadership skills by undergoing training programmes, wherein you involve yourself in role plays and practical activities through blended and experiential learning. Above all, you need to get your hands dirty to excel as an effective leader. Therefore, learning the ropes of leadership is easier said than done.

Leadership is a trainable skill and one that is transferable from one person to another. It is more of a behavioural skill that can be learned by experience and through proper training and grooming. There must be mentors who can share their experiences from time to time, and walk the talk to fine-tune the mentees. In addition, there must be coaches who can interact with, question and grill coachees to get the best out of them.

Recruit the Right Talent

Success doesn’t come to the most intelligent/gifted/strong. The world is full of geniuses who did zero with their talent …. Sustained success comes to the person with the biggest fire inside of them.

Robin Sharma

Hire the talent with the right attitude. Recruit the people who failed and learnt lessons in their lives, as they can add value to the organization through their previous experiences. This does not mean you should encourage all failures, but only those failures with varied experiences as it demonstrates their tenacity and resilience. In fact, adversity teaches several lessons. For instance, Lincoln excelled as a great leader as he underwent trials and tribulations throughout his life. It helped him to handle the crises within America as President, thereby retaining the unity of America, and fighting against slavery. At the same time, don’t base your recruitment on too great a focus on academic background alone, or the nature of the educational institution one hails from. Merely graduating from the Harvard Business School, MIT, London Business School, and other prestigious institutions does not guarantee great leaders.

In an interview, it is tough to judge the leadership skills and abilities of the candidates. As Matthew Tuttle rightly said, ‘Many of the traits are … difficult to see in an interview.’ At times the evaluator makes a mistake in assessing the suitability of the candidates as candidates often fake their abilities to gain entry into the company.

Home-growing Leaders

While development plans and succession charts aren’t promises, they are often communicated as such and can lead to frustration they aren’t realistic…. Only give the promise of succession if there is a realistic chance of its happening!

Dr Marshall Goldsmith2

Home-growing the talent within is ideal, as such people are aware of the system, culture and values. In addition, it encourages others to perform well when they see that the company is promoting the people within, and talented people are not tempted to leave the organization. However, in rare cases it is essential to hire outsiders as they bring in fresh knowledge, skills, abilities and expertise, thus adding value to the organization. Unlike the talent within, they do not have preconceived notions. Besides, hiring is ideal when time is short and there is an urgent need for talent with specific skill-sets, mindsets and tool sets.

Home-growing the talent is more cost-effective than hiring talent from outside. Research reveals that home-grown talent is more competent in facing challenges than externally hired talent, as the inside talent knows the ground realities and can easily anticipate and gear up to face challenges.

Even if you hire an outside leader with a stellar track record, it cannot guarantee you success as what worked in the past might not work in the present or the future. In addition, a leader may be successful in a particular context, but not in all of them. For instance, Winston Churchill was successful as a leader during World War II, but not during peace time.

Although there are deficiencies in the leadership talent within the company, it is still better to promote them as a known devil is often better than an unknown angel. When you hire outside talent, your judgement might not be correct, and it takes time for the new talent to understand and appreciate the organizational culture and climate.

Several top companies globally have become successful by home-growing their talent. Companies like GE, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Procter and Gamble, and Motorola encouraged the internal grooming of leaders rather than hiring outside talent.

McKinsey & Co. executes a ‘team barometer’ survey once in two weeks to gather inputs from project teams to assess leadership competency and capability. It serves as feedback for employees in grooming them as leaders. Similarly, companies can design their own means and methodologies for assessing leadership competencies.

In the case of talent within the company, the strengths and weaknesses of the employees become clear through performance appraisals. Hence, it is ideal to encourage home-grown leaders. Kirk Richardson rightly suggested, ‘There is only one true way to select really good leaders in a highly-predictable manner. You home-grow them ….’3

In order to survive and succeed in the long term, it is always advisable to spot, groom and promote talent within the company, rather than hiring from the outside. It ultimately engenders employee loyalty and commitment, thus preserving the organizational culture, climate and employee morale.

LDP in India

A shift in leadership development has occurred. While it used to be that American and European companies had cornered the market on developing the leaders of tomorrow, our latest round of research shows that Europe is now second to organizations in Asia Pacific, with India making the fastest progress.

Norm Smallwood4

Indian companies prefer to train and groom the leadership talent within their organizations rather than hiring from outside. Their leadership development programmes align the employees’ needs with organizational goals. Indian companies have strong selection strategies to recruit and train the people as per their business needs. Norm Smallwood, in his article ‘Why Leadership Development in Asia Is Better Than in Europe’ (2010), clearly stated that the leadership selection, planning and development in Asia Pacific is much stronger with three companies like the ICICI Bank, Hindustan Unilever and Infosys in the top 25 for leadership development.

Dave Ulrich rightly said, ‘The ultimate challenge of leaders who are senior managers is to develop the next generation of leaders more capable than themselves.’ Leadership is a craft and a discipline which can be learned, and should be learned, for our growth, adding value to our organizations and making a difference in the lives of others. Hence, there is a need for continual improvement in leadership skills and abilities among employees. It is time the companies made leadership a way of life.

What the future might hold is anybody’s guess, but having competent leaders to battle complexity and uncertainty is clearly within the control of most companies. We are currently moving towards a dynamic business environment which demands different and unique skill sets, mindsets and tool sets from leaders. There is a strong need for companies to catch up with the current global pace of change.

The current global financial crisis and the recent eruption of corporate scandals show that there is a dearth of leadership talent and ethical leadership at the top. Hence, there is a need to emphasize ethics while developing leaders. To conclude, there is an urgent need to invest in people by conducting leadership development programmes regularly.