Nov 122008

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Dr. Earl R. Smith II

Just as every ship needs a captain, every organization needs a leader. Every captain needs a support network of officers and every leader needs a senior team – leadership is an extended function. Organizations seldom choose a leader. Mostly leaders emerge, contend for supremacy and are selected from among competing candidates – much like the selection in the recent US presidential election.

Several lesions have emerged from the years I’ve spent coaching executives to become better leaders. The first is that the development of leadership skills takes time and extended experience. There is no shortcut. Leaders do not emerge overnight. Part of the reason is that allegiance is based on experience and reputation – at least among serious people. People do not tend to follow neophytes or ‘Johnny-come-latelys’. I would be the first to agree that some tendencies and aptitudes are inborn – some people are more likely to become leaders than others are. However, I have also learned that diamonds in the rough are just that – leadership is a highly refined and practiced art.

Second, leaders are people who get things done – not people who order others to get things done. The later is merely a supervisor. My executive and leadership coaching engagements sometimes focus on this lesson. One particular type of engagement begins with a CEO who sees their role as thinking of things for people to do and then seeing that they do them. Most often, this attitude needs to change. I recently started working with such a CEO and, after a few sessions, he abandoned the posturing and became the chief business development officer for the company – and a highly effective and productive one at that!

Third, it takes a lot of experience to develop the sure-footedness and steady hand that makes for a good leader. Today there is little time for on-the-job training – the world wants to see results. There is also little patience with attacking today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. People scoff at individuals who adopt age-old techniques of problem solving. Yesterday a leader was chosen in accordance with hierarchy or in terms of years of service. Today the choice is made in accordance with the aptitude, competence and knack that he has to achieving a goal or target. Seniority – position within the organization – has been replaced with a ‘post modernist theory’ of leadership.

Fourth, leaders are chosen with the times and challenges in mind. The old days of a static definition of leadership are past. Companies – particularly middle market ones – need to have the right CEO at the right time. I have organized organizational and management assessment programs for companies – only to discover that the real problem is that the company has the wrong management team for the challenges it is facing. The value proposition is strong – the marketing and sale programs robust and effective – the employees highly productive – but the CEO and senior team are just not up to the challenges and the changes necessary for the company to win.

I am a big believer in the usefulness of extend leadership assessment programs. By extended, I mean programs that draw data from a number of organizational levels in order to produce a truer picture of the leadership skills and weaknesses of an executive. Remember that we are talking about a leadership development process that extends for many years – leadership development is a preparation for the future by developing the skills and abilities of the present. My leadership coaching helps my clients to realize their potential and develop their leadership style in preparation for challenges still over the horizon.

The assessment process takes very little time. Using web-enabled technology, most of them are complete within a week – including analysis of the data and presentation of results. The principal values of the assessment are that:

  • It develops a clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the client’s leadership style
  • the initial data establishes a baseline which future progress can be measured against, and
  • the assessment process provides the outlines of a leadership development program that will help the client become a far better and more effective leader

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