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Leaders lacking

Survey finds shocking gap that needs filling

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The latest research by the now-famous Gallup survey and polling company says today's organizations are continuing to fail at hiring the right talent for their organization 82 per cent of the time. The study suggests people are still being hired and promoted for their technical talent rather than leadership talent.

Not only is this statistic alarming, but according to Gallup, it appears to account for the 70 per cent variance in worldwide employee-engagement scores. As a result, the survey suggests bad management can indeed be blamed for the low employee-engagement and employee-morale scores.

James Harder, Gallup's chief scientist, suggests overall, few people really do have the skills to lead and motivate others while at the same time giving direction and being assertive, yet considerate, when tough decisions must be made. In his view, only approximately 20 per cent of managers have the latent talent to be a good leader/manager and have the ability to improve with coaching services.

Frankly, this makes a management and leadership team rather an elite group and a critical one for the success of an organization. Yet, while the evidence of poor recruitment and selection appears to be overwhelming, most organizations simply have to work with the team they already have in place.

So the question now becomes how to provide training and development in order to increase the skills of these current managers/leaders. While some individuals may turn to intensive two- to three-day courses, it is well known that in most cases, upon return, the training binder is put on a shelf and remains unused. In other situations, individuals are turning to webinars and quick online-learning programs. While these are interesting, they typically do not provide depth, but more importantly, there is no practice and/or guidance.

Therefore, as the chief scientist for Gallup suggests, coaching may be the answer. Coaching as a profession has grown considerably over the past 10 years. The challenge is it's not a singular profession but instead one with many confusing certifications and designations. In fact, everyone is suddenly calling themselves a coach, each with a different approach and different business experience.

In my experience as an organizational leader, coach and consultant, I find the most successful approach for training leaders is to engage individuals in an intensive and practical six-month leadership-training program. This type of program creates a firm knowledge foundation as well as increasing self-awareness and leadership skill-building. In a small group environment, participants meet others with similar experience and challenges and can bounce ideas back and forth and learn from each other.

This type of structured program is delivered bimonthly and follows a facilitated-discussion strategy rather than a lecture approach. This approach of "learn, see and do," accompanied by personal followup coaching, has been found to be much more practical and effective. The value of being able to immediately apply what you have learned, report and discuss the challenges and successes, and to share those successes, not only builds self-confidence, but solidifies skill development.

Self-assessment and self-awareness are also critical components of leadership-development programs such as this. Self-assessment takes courage as it not only identifies an individual's blind spot, but each person is held accountable for developing and implementing plans to overcome their areas of challenge.

Assessments range from paper-based surveys that examine both personal and professional lives to online surveys that ask for employee feedback. In most cases, there is some level of surprise with the feedback, and participants often need help to accept the responses and move on with skill development.

Another important component of this type of program is the discussion of the concept of leadership. Leadership style in today's world has changed dramatically to more of a teamwork and influence style. This style is much more complex and requires much more sophisticated interpersonal and influence skills. Anyone who thinks and/or practices the autocratic, "do as I say" style will simply not succeed in the long run.

Overall, the best of programs cover topics related to personal growth and development, then move to the importance of developing others, developing the organization and then continuing to sustain the gains and successes.

One of the areas where many managers experience difficulty is how to deal with performance issues without negatively impacting employee motivation. In my experience, I find managers often ignore issues for too long and are then forced to deal with a crisis. On the other hand, many managers simply "police for failure" instead of coaching for success. As well, many managers ignore the need for documentation, and when it comes to moving an employee out of an organization, they have nothing to substantiate the rationale for their decision.

A practical, hands-on leadership program provides guidance to participants by providing real-time scenarios and inviting individuals to share their challenges in the group discussions. This sharing approach helps participants learn from each other.

A key skill every manager must learn in today's organizations is how to manage change and transition. This can range from introducing and orienting a new employee into an established team to preparing for new ownership through a merger and/or acquisition. Participants in a facilitated-learning program learn and experience the proven steps to effective change management, how to best communicate change and how to recognize and deal with the signs of resistance.

Although there has been much focus on stress and mental health in the workplace, I still find many leaders fail to do a good job of looking after their own health and stress issues. They are the first ones at work in the morning and the last ones to leave. They find it difficult to shut off their work thoughts and instead take their work issues home. As a result, program discussions about personal stress and how to deal with it becomes important content in any leadership-training program.

The combination and flow of leadership topics ranging from self-awareness, to employee motivation, delegation and performance management to personal stress is important in the progressive development of program participants. However, in my view, the most important element of any program is the training approach, and that is why I prefer a facilitated-discussion approach rather than seeing an expert simply lecturing to a crowd.

Frankly, I was quite shocked to learn the results of this recent Gallup survey. It is just hard to believe approximately 82 per cent of today's leaders and managers are still considered to be so lacking in skills. So if Canadian organizations want to be competitive in the global market, they better start investing in the training leaders and managers obviously need.

Source: Why are Good Managers in Such Short Supply?, Executive Briefing, HR Magazine, SHRM, May, 2014; Results Centred Leadership Training Program, the Achievement Centre.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed., is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2014 H1

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