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Saturday, December 12, 2009

'Mr. Watson — Come here — I want to see you.'

'What this power is I cannot say; all I know is that it exists and it becomes available only when a man is in that state of mind in which he knows exactly what he wants and is fully determined not to quit until he finds it.'

Alexander Graham Bell

What is the DNA of the Top Ranked Companies for Leadership Development?

Fortune magazine has just published its 'top companies for leaders study 2009' (see postings on 21 November 2009).

Some FAQs about the methodology of the study:

1.What are the common factors amongst these top-ranked companies in the area of leadership development?

i. Building a brand for leadership - For leading companies, building an external reputation for attracting and developing strong leadership is vital to long-term success. They recognise that a strong leadership brand is a great competitive advantage – one that attracts strong leaders as well as retains the top talent. A core component of the leadership brand of top companies is corporate social responsibility. These companies have realised that CSR directly helps them attract and inspire leaders at a time when there is a great concern for social responsibility, ethics and integrity.

ii. Getting selection right - The top companies are more intentional in whom they hire as leaders. Almost 100% of winners have a specific selection strategy for hiring leaders from within as well as outside the organisation. As one of the top executive of a winning company said: “ The business imperative is to grow very fast, therefore we need to develop leadership capability at all levels and ensure that we have the right people for right roles.” 100% of top companies tie their leader assessment, selection and development strategies to business and leadership goals.

iii. Focusing on a pipeline of future leaders - Research shows that the top companies clearly define critical roles in the organisation and have a robust methodology of creating future leaders. All top companies report having sufficient talent pipeline for being successful in the future. The reasons cited by companies for not having sufficient talent pipeline are lack of required skills / experience in the existing employees and insufficient mentoring programmes.

iv. Meaningful development through experience and exposure - Many companies depend on informal or fragmented development efforts. Some others depend on “corporate driven” programmes with little thought to the role or the market. Research shows that the top companies do three specific things, which differentiate them :
  • Provide individual focus for leadership development and cater to individual specific needs.
  • They groom leaders at a much faster speed.
  • They provide holistic development through action learning projects, job rotations, exposure to organisational role models and creating robust development programmes.

2.What are the key takeways from this survey? 

i. Top companies create leaders at a fast pace, and are better geared for growth - The top companies for leaders are growing business faster than the rest. They are also growing leaders at a faster rate than the rest. They achieve this through identification of top talent early in their careers, provide them with robust development opportunities, re-evaluate their talent pipeline year on year. They also have unmitigated focus on holistic and structured development programmes.

ii. Top companies’ focus on creating a unique leadership brand - ethics, sustainability, values and CSR are increasingly becoming important for them in building a leadership brand. Leadership talent has started to give more weighting to these organisational attributes, and top companies are increasingly building these into their organisational DNA.

3 Are there any lessons from the current downturn in the economic activity that have impacted leadership thinking?

i. Top companies have continued to invest in their people, irrespective of the downturn. In fact, top companies have shown greater commitment towards development of their people in the last year.

ii.Top companies have focused on experiential learning, stretch assignments and customised development intervention to groom leaders when they knew they had to restrain their finances. Not surprisingly, their leadership pipeline is becoming their trump card in these challenging economic times.

4. Top companies realise that to survive in today’s hyper competitive world, one needs to have people who are professionally qualified and competent. The old mantra that leaders should be 'built' and not bought is increasingly being replaced with 'an effective leadership team needs some external gems'. This is because in companies where leaders were only grown internally, an inward orientation tends to set in. To keep leaders outwardly oriented and therefore always open to change, top companies create a well thought out mix of internally and externally hired talent even at the highest level.

5. One area where most organisations need to make a perception shift is with celebrating the charismatic individuals—companies need to move away from creating charismatic leadership in a few individuals, and need to move to creating a robust process of leadership development. Companies also need to move away from “corporate training programmes” to “role and market” focused leadership development process. The mindset has to change from training to holistic development.

6. Over the past years, the curvey results have shown that leadership development has become a strategic CEO agenda. CEOs are getting involved in assessment, selection and development of future leaders. More and more companies have taken to planning for leaders a lot more seriously. Companies are investing in customised development of people. Leaders are being groomed in various ways, for example, what was predominantly training driven learning is now becoming experiential learning. Leadership development has become a lot more scientific in terms of how it is practised over the years. Companies have elaborate processes, procedures and practices, which make leadership development more scientific.

7. Winning organisations see leadership development as a science. Their investments and efforts in managing their top performing employees, and enabling their career track for leadership roles has shown valuable results. Which explains why some of the top companies have leadership academies that are world renowned. Some top companies have iconic figures as leaders and believe in developing leaders through emulation and role modeling. There are inherent practices for constantly breaking the mould and rebuilding it from scratch, never allowing their future and existing leaders to slip into their comfort zones. Importantly, these companies with their aggressive growth plans, are feeding their business with high performing leadership talent—they focus on spotting talent early, grooming and moulding them to take on the roles.

The Use of Open-Ended Questions

Many people in leadership roles are accustomed to speaking more than they are conditioned to let others do the talking. Becoming a good listener is not something that happens overnight. Exceptional leaders are active listeners—they encourage others to share their ideas and opinions by asking open-ended questions.

Open-ended questions, such as those beginning with "What," "How," and "Why" elicit responses from employees that clarify their points of view—thoughts and feelings that may not be apparent to you.
Practice asking short and simple open-ended questions such as:

"Tell me more about how you see this situation?"

"In what way will this affect you?"

"How do you feel about this?"

"What are your thoughts on this issue?"

Pay attention to how your employees answer these questions, then follow up with closed questions that begin with words such as "So," "Do," "Which," and "Did" to summarise and confirm their (and your) understanding.

One of the best, and most difficult, times to use open questions is when you disagree with what someone has said. Instead of saying "I don't agree with you," try asking "What makes you think that?" or, "What led you to that conclusion?"

You may learn something, but more importantly, you won't have shut down the conversation and you have a better opportunity to reach a mutual understanding.