You've probably heard the old joke about leadership being the ability to figure out which way people are going, then running to get in front of them. You might laugh, but in today's world, business owners can't afford to ignore poor leadership in their supervisors, managers and executives. A recent survey of top U.S. companies revealed that businesses have a difficult time finding qualified leaders and that employees fear their companies face an uncertain future due to lack of leadership. And, of the leaders surveyed, 70 percent said that they pursued development activities to make themselves more marketable for other jobs, and not necessarily at their current companies.
The study, conducted by Development Dimensions International Inc. (DDI) in Pittsburgh, focused on large corporations, but Barrie Athol, DDI's vice president, says the results are equally, if not more, applicable to entrepreneurial businesses. "The strength of a leader has much more impact on the success of a small organization than a large organization," Athol says. "For example, in a small company, if you have an open executive slot or one of the executives is not performing well, that could mean a third of your executive leadership is [floundering]. If you have one executive who is not performing well in a large corporation, there are [plenty of] others to cover for him."
It's more than just numbers. "Smaller organizations are flatter, so individual leaders don't have a staff to take care of certain things for them," Athol notes. "The quality of each individual leader tends to be more critical in a smaller organization."
So what can you do? First, says Athol, recognize that selecting and developing leaders is extremely important to your company's success-and one of your chief entreprenerial responsibilities. "Take the approach that your primary role is to develop leadership within the organization," Athol advises.
Next, understand why people leave jobs so you can improve your retention ratio. "The research shows the top issues aren't compensation and benefits or reward and recognition," Athol says. "The main reason people leave one company to go work for another is they don't like their boss. People tend to quit bosses, not companies."
People also need to feel that their work is meaningful and their contribution is valued, and that they have an opportunity to grow and develop in what they're doing. "These are areas where often-times smaller organizations are at a real advantage over larger ones," says Athol. If you can't afford to send people to expensive outside training programs, look for ways to make the work itself a development program. Athol advises giving people more responsibility earlier so they learn by doing. He also recommends a system of job rotation so everyone can learn about the various aspects of the operation.
Before implementing any program, talk with your people to find out what they want and need. Then think of leadership development as a joint venture, with leaders taking responsibility for their own development and organizations empowering them to do so.
Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 13 years ago and has been writing about business and management from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.
- Development Dimensions International Inc., (800)933-4463, www.ddiworld.com