All too often, when I ask a client whom they would like to include in their leadership development initiative, they respond with, “Well, we have X senior managers and Y middle managers and Z supervisors. Can we do something for all of them?” In other words, when they hear the word “leader” they think of only people at the top level plus anyone who has at least one employee formally reporting to them.
I must confess, I apply this same filter a lot myself. I may influence the client’s answer by asking how many managers they have who are responsible for someone’s performance review. It’s hard to overcome years of conditioning from the “olden days” of hierarchical organization charts.
But this is the age of flat organizations, collaboration, matrix teams solving problems, and the ability to network and communicate instantly with anyone in the company. Clearly, we need to broaden our idea of who should receive leadership development. There are many people who have no direct reports but who yet engage in leadership behaviors in their work. Why freeze them out of an opportunity to grow the skills that we expose our current managers to: communications, influencing, team building, direction setting, showing up authentically, building relationships, etc.?
Interestingly, a 2013 global study of 1200 senior level managers and professionals discovered that, at least for global organizations, there is a shift to seeing “leaders” in terms of the influence they exercise, not just their formal job title. Specifically,
- 39% define leader as “Anyone whose role allows them to influence a group, regardless of direct reporting relationships.”
- 14% harbor an even broader definition–”Anyone, whether he or she manages others or not, who is a top performer in his or her specific role.”
That means over 50% of senior level employees see leadership manifest where it actually takes place, not just where the organization chart says it does. Furthermore, the study found that this perspective is more strongly held in high performing enterprises.
What does this suggest for Leadership Development (LD) in your organization? At minimum, include your identified high potential future leaders. Perhaps add in other employees who would be obvious candidates for your succession pipeline. And finally, consider self-selection: offering some form of training for anyone who expresses a desire to learn and grow their leadership competencies. For this third group, you might create a course like “Leadership Skills for the Individual Contributor” and make it less about motivating and encouraging performance than about influencing and about fostering strong working relationships.
We offer a program called “Managing Up” which teaches employees where they can play a leadership role in the relationship with their boss. That would be a start.
© 2015 – 2016, Ian Cook. All rights reserved.