As information about the tragedy in Boston emerge one of the things that struck me most was the number of people who ran towards the site of the bombing. Sure people ran away, but many turned to help. Some were obviously first responders who are trained and who accepted the duty to render aide. Others however were ordinary people who performed extraordinary acts. While these acts inspired me and provided proof that there are many good and fearless people in the world, it also reminded me that leaders can be found throughout all levels of an organization.
Being a leader means that you are willing to step up and take action. It’s more than just a title; in fact there are people who are in leadership positions that really do not lead anyone. They may command action due to their title and position but people aren’t inspired to follow them anywhere.
True leaders are people who inspire others to take action and move in a common direction. I’ve seen this from a factory floor to corporate offices, in schools and on youth sports teams. If you step back and watch behaviors there will be a person in a group that everyone else looks to for guidance and direction. At times they aren’t even really aware that others are following them, they just do what’s right because that’s who they are. This draws people in and results in others adopting their attitudes and behaviors.
Unfortunately at times the people who become defacto leaders have great charisma but are self-centered and only have their interests in mind. These people can lead folks down an ugly path. The good news is that while these people exist they typically don’t have great influence over many people for very long. Good people realize the intent is off and pull away.
The challenge for organizations is to identify the informal leaders who are shaping the thoughts and actions of those around them and ensuring they are engaged in moving the company forward. Too often management underestimates the power of the informal leaders and works to direct everyone’s actions without using these valuable resources to provide momentum. Tapping into the leadership found at every level of your organization will help create a uniform culture, makes it easier to introduce change effectively and can provide critical insights into the problems within the company.
Remember that anyone can lead from anywhere in your organization. Encourage people to step up and help direct the actions of their team or department, particularly those who do not have a position that means they have a responsibility to lead others. The informal leaders have great influence on those around them and can make or break a change initiative. Just like ordinary people can be heroes in times of disaster, ordinary people can be inspiring leaders. Find them in your organization and celebrate their contributions.
How do you encourage informal leadership?
photo from iStockphoto.com
Have you identified who you want to groom to take over your position? It’s possible that you will not be able to move onto a new opportunity unless there is a clear candidate for your current position. Also, when you work hard to create a high performing group you want to see it continue to succeed. Additionally, you then have the chance to help someone else grow into their leadership potential.
It’s clear that in the next 5 to 10 years there will be a dramatic shift in the workforce, both from age demographics and work style. As the Baby Boomers move into retirement and more Gen Y enter the workforce the dynamics of how business is done will be changing. Are you preparing your organization for these changes?
The changes that will be developing with the changing of the guard are both in how work is done and in leadership styles. The younger generations have different views on employee/boss relationships, communication styles, preferred work style, motivation, etc. The Baby Boomers who make up the majority of leader roles today are the ones who need to prepare people and organizations for the shift. To accomplish this will be a challenge to them because much of what will work in the future goes against their natural instincts. And yet, they must step up to the challenge.
Here are a few points to keep in mind when working to develop leadership skills in Gen Y:
- Collaboration: Teamwork ranks higher than individual efforts
- Technology: This generation grew up with computers and technology
- Diversity: Celebrating and accepting the differences of people is natural
- Confidence: They believe they can do anything they put their minds to
- Goal Oriented: Willingness to focus and achieve goals
- Feedback: Looking for constant feedback on performance
As you work on developing the skills needed for young professionals in your organization to take over leadership roles creating a structure where they can play to their strengths will help them succeed. One challenge will be to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. Historically this is a skill learned through time and experience. The speed of change in today’s business world makes this approach ineffective. The ability to think critically and strategically must be actively approached and developed.
Some tips to help grow this vital skill are:
- Seek Input: Draw information out of everyone and leverage technology sources
- Solicit Ideas: Get ideas for solutions from everyone – regardless of experience level
- Encourage Discussion: Create an environment where solutions are explored and discussed from all viewpoints – constructive conflict is great
- Provide Feedback: Ask stakeholders for feedback on needs and desires
- Embrace Risk: Evaluate risks and allow opportunities for people to take risks without being penalized heavily for mistake
Creating an environment where each generation can learn from each other in an open and encouraging world will help the newer generations learn leadership skills. Leadership styles will change over time, as they have in the past, so it is critical for today’s leaders to embrace the differences in styles so that tomorrow’s leaders will be set to skillfully lead.
What are you doing to develop your successors?