Why is Leadership Development Important?

Picture this.. Joe is offered an entry level position with a company as he begins his career. In the months that follow, he works as hard as he possibly can to develop the skills necessary to excel in his new role. Joe is extremely dependable and is outperforming most of his peers by the end of his first year in the organization. 

About 18 months in, Joe’s supervisor accepts a position with another company. Based on everything he’s done to hone his technical skills and learn the ins and outs of the process, Joe is offered the supervisor spot! 

Mary graduated at the top of her class with an expertise that resulted in several employers making her outstanding offers right away. She chose the one that was the best fit for her and she’s been one of their top performers for more than a decade. While she’s an absolute master of her craft and gets genuine fulfillment from everything involved, there have been times where she’s considered taking that next step into management. A position opens up, she nails the interview, and she accepts the position. Now Mary will be responsible for overseeing the entire department she’s been a part of for the last ten years!

Exciting success stories, huh? Absolutely! How many times have you seen folks work through scenarios similar to either of those and grow within their company, or get offers from other companies? When an organization can offer a career path that allows someone to grow into new roles with increased responsibility - and pay - it can become known as one of the best places to work in the area. And even when someone accepts a better position with another company, aren’t we still happy to see their hard work get rewarded?

So here’s the question: How many times have you seen someone work incredibly hard to do a great job, earn a promotion into a role where they’re now responsible for a team of people doing the same or similar jobs, then struggle to accomplish results even similar to what they had been achieving on their own? Unfortunately, we’ve probably all seen this happen a time or two…

Regardless of the industry, being a great individual contributor and being an effective leader requires two VERY different skill sets! There are definitely times where a top performer has a level of charisma that helps rally their new team around them. But all too often, the skills that got them there are no where close to the ones they’ll need to get results from a team of people who they may have been working side by side with previously.

This is a move from ME to WE, and mastering this craft almost always requires a completely different set of skills!

In most organizations, there’s a premium value placed on the folks with strong technical knowledge - and they deserve it! But not nearly as many put the same type of focus on developing what’s so commonly labeled as the “soft skills” in those same people who are becoming experts in their field. This can end up getting an organization out of balance; just like  could happen if we only curled dumbbells with our right arm and only ate pizza with our left arm…

Why is leadership development important? Let’s take a look at some of the issues we can face, as well as some of the increased costs we can expect, without building an intentional balance into how we develop our top performing team members as they grow in our organizations!

I Don’t Have Time for This!   

Be honest, how many times have you muttered “I don’t have time for this!” under your breath, or even said it directly to someone on your team as you were showing them how to perform a task one more time? To be completely transparent with you, I’m not even going to try to count the times I’ve said it. For that matter, I don’t think I can count high even to reach the number of times I’ve been responsible for someone else saying it…

And in most of the cases where we’ve each felt that way, how often would it have been easier to have that person we’re training step aside and watch while we got the job done ourselves? Please know that this is one of those rhetorical questions! It’s almost always easier to have the team member step aside, or in some cases gently nudge them aside, so we can get the task knocked out and get back to what we were involved in. If they’d only just pay attention, right?

Consider that question again, “Why is leadership development important?” If the scenario I just walked you through struck even the slightest cord with you, I’m guessing you’re tracking with me on the first reason I’ll share in response to that question.

As outstanding individual contributors, we accomplished great results by working hard, doing whatever was required, and making things happen when others wouldn’t. That kind of drive and initiative likely played a large part in earning promotions to supervise and manage those same tasks we had performed so well! But the challenge that comes with moving from a role where we’re high performing individual contributors into a role where we need to achieve similar results through a team of people is that it’s a bit unreasonable to expect every single team member to perform at that same level or even do things just how we’d always done them… 

Forgive me here as I insert a word that can be a form of profanity to many of my DRIVEN friends: PATIENCE

Why is leadership development important? Being a great doer doesn’t always require much patience! In fact, we often get praised and rewarded for not being patient as we push through any barrier in front of us in order to get things done! But that same drive that earned us praise as an individual contributor can quickly alienate the team we’re responsible for leading if we don’t learn how to use it appropriately, and include a healthy dose of patience! And this almost always requires a change in how we think.

It also requires us to be very intentional about the way we communicate and interact with the team we’re leading. We’ll dig into that next. But until then, I’ll share that this idea of patience isn’t something just me or you have to fight through. In fact, we’ve seen so many people struggle with it, and in so many different industries, it’s one of the issues we address in Navigating Leadership Roadblocks as well as in our Emerging Leader Development course. If you’re not familiar with either, here’s a link you can use to catch a complimentary webinar where we hit on some key steps for Navigating Leadership Roadblocks...

It’s HOW You Say It... 

If I only had a dollar for each time Cindy’s told me, “It’s not what you say, it’s HOW you say it…” Can you relate - with me or with Cindy??? I can sure think of a bunch of times where I’ve felt that same way!

In providing yet another answer to the question we’ve been looking at here, Why is leadership development important?, let’s take a look at how much effective communication matters… In doing that, we almost have to consider just how little attention this gets as outstanding individual contributors climb through the ranks in their organization - until something crazy happens that shines a spotlight on the issue!

As I think back to all the times Cindy has made that comment to me, I know there were a bunch of instances where I simply brushed her off by saying, “That’s just how I am.” While that is indeed the case, it wasn’t until I learned how to understand and apply The Model of Human Behavior that I knew just how true that really was AND that I should never use it as an excuse for being a jerk!

I do find a little bit of solace in knowing that issue has impacted far more people than me… And I’ve found even more peace in knowing what I can do on a daily basis to at least limit the number of times she needs to remind me to watch my tone!

All jokes aside, this is a significant issue in almost every organization. The way a supervisor, a manager, or anyone with leadership responsibility for that matter, communicates with their team members has a huge impact on the entire atmosphere of that workplace. And all too often, companies just don’t have the internal resources to provide their leaders with the tools they need to avoid the issues that occur as a result.

Believe it or not, this isn’t isolated to me communicating with Cindy or even the scenario you’re picturing right now! Salesforce.com shared a study a few years ago where 86% of the executives surveyed cited lack of collaboration and ineffective communication as the primary reason for workplace failure! A similar study by SIS International Research showed the cumulative cost of annual productivity losses due to communication issues alone were more than $26,000 per employee!

Why is leadership development important? This question frequently gets glossed over because very few people ever tie it back to tangible behaviors that directly impact their organization’s bottom line! To compound that issue, leadership development - including the tools and training that help supervisors and managers learn to communicate with their team members more effectively - are nearly always termed as the “soft skills training” that can be done when there’s time…

The SIS International Research study went on to estimate that the $26k/employee in productivity losses would cost the average company with 100 people around $530,000 each year. Even if those were the only costs of poor communication, it would be way too much! But how about the impact it can have on turnover? Let’s dig into those costs as we wrap up… But here's a spoiler alert: they’re crazy high too!

Can We Afford Not To…? 

I don’t think it’s a secret that many organizations view “soft skills” training as something that’s nice to do when there’s time, but see it as far less critical to the day to day operation of the business than any technical training tying directly back to their specific industry. But is that the right decision?

In chapter 16 of Leadership Gold, People Quit People, Not Companies, John Maxwell says “Some sources estimate that as many as 65% of people leaving companies do so because of their managers… The ‘company’ doesn’t do anything negative to them, people do.” In many cases, these are the same managers that have risen through the ranks of that company as they’ve developed strong technical skills and became some of the organization’s top producers. But as I shared before with regards to how that can impact communication, being great at doing doesn’t always translate to being effective in delivering a message to the team members that person ends up managing. I also referenced how much poor communication alone can impact productivity…

Why is leadership development important? In the book Cindy and I were invited to contribute to a few years back, Discover Your Team’s Potential, Chris Rollins shared that the term “soft skills” originated with the US military in defining the training they saw having the most impact in keeping soldiers alive in battle. During a conversation with Carly Fiorina a while back, she compared soft skills to computer software. She said that even with the best hardware on the marker, a computer is basically a paperweight without the right software. She went on to say that someone attempting to lead with great technical skills but little or no soft skills is much like a computer without software…

I mentioned the study showing that poor communication can result in $26k of lost productivity, but does it stop there? If only…

A study shared by Gallup.com shared this:

“The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the US voluntary turnover rate is 23.4% annually. It’s generally estimated that replacing an employee costs a business one-half to five times that employee’s annual salary. If 25% of a business’ workforce leaves and the average pay is $25,000, it could cost a 100-person firm between $428,000 and $4 million a year to replace employees.”

Remember that 65% Maxwell mentioned? The ones who left because of their manager… I’ll ask the question again: Why is leadership development important?

A quick internet search shows that the average small business generates around $100k in revenue per employee where larger businesses are close to $200k per employee. Let split the difference and say a company with 100 employees does around $15 million per year in revenue. Let’s also use the conservative numbers from the Gallup study, $438k per year to replace employees who leave voluntarily. Then let’s add the cost of lost productivity due to poor communication, $530k annually based on that SIS International Research study we looked at last time. That’s close to six percent of the entire company’s annual revenue, and we’re just using the low numbers! How much is that impacting the actual profit? I’d argue that this is almost ALL profit that’s being lost since the fixed costs aren’t likely to change.

If effective leadership development could reduce this by only one-third, could you find a better use for $350k in profit? I’m guessing most owners and executives could… But what does effective leadership development even look like? When begin defining leadership development in a way that ensures the rubber actually meets the road next time. Until then, don’t miss this chance to reserve a complimentary spot for Navigating Leadership Roadblock and earn the continuing education credit that’s been approved for participating!

Learn These Critical Steps for an Effective Leadership Transition

With each step forward in our leadership journey, there’s potential to be stopped in tracks as we run into various roadblocks to leading our teams effectively. As we gain more and more leadership responsibility, we tend to rely less on our technical skills, our ability to supervise a process, or our training on how to manage specific metrics. This is where developing and strengthening specific leadership skills can make a tremendous impact on the results of our team as well as the entire organization.

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