Developing Leaders by Ron Cacioppe

With the W.A. economy accelerating, many companies are moving rapidly forward with energy and resource projects. Organisations are hiring new people and pushing their managers to complete projects on time and on budget. Dealing with technical challenges, letting of contracts, hiring manpower, managing costs, maintaining safety and environmental standards and meeting project deadlines have become their main priorities. But the factor that most results in success is often left out: developing leaders who inspire, motivate, plan strategically and manage performance of the workforce.

During this rapid growth, frontline workers are being promoted to supervisors, supervisors are promoted to middle managers and middle managers are given higher levels of responsibility often without the necessary training and support to be effective leaders. As a result, good staff leave because of poor leadership. A survey by the Australian Institute of Management found that the biggest cause of people leaving their organisation was not salary, poor work conditions, or other organisation factors but was poor management. The results were summarised as; “People don’t leave their organisations, they leave their managers.”

A study of outstanding leaders by Jay Conger, a well known expert in leadership development, showed that good leaders developed in three major ways:

1. Working for an outstanding leader provided a role model that successful leaders emulated.
2. Working for a poor leader provided clear guidelines of what not to do.
3. Being placed in a challenging situation gave leaders responsibility that moved them out of their comfort zone and tested their stamina, intellectual and emotional skills and spiritual strength.

The City of Joondalup recently ran an intensive leadership development program in which every manager was placed in challenging situations that simulated real organisational situations. Trained observers gave each person feedback at the end of each day on how well or poorly they performed and what skills they needed to become successful leaders.

One of the most effective leadership development programs is to place a group of potential leaders in a rugged natural environment which requires using their combined individual and team skills to achieve a challenging and complex mission. Just like the workplace environments, the natural environment spontaneously changes and leaders must adapt to unpredicted changing events and conditions. These outdoor adventures test and extend the limits of a person’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development.

Simon Priest, a Canadian researcher showed outdoor programs can lead to lasting benefit for the individual and the organisation if they are ‘framed’ into real issues relevant to the workplace. For example, instead of using a ‘spider-web’ problem, the outdoor challenge should be framed as the distribution problem they face at work. If a person receives feedback about themselves and guidance in learning useful leadership lessons during the adventure program, it can lead to a life changing experience. Participants often remark years later that when faced with huge barriers, challenges or adverse conditions at work, the lessons learned in these programs helped them to persevere to achieve personal and organisational success.

Does investing in leadership development matter? Does it lead to organisation benefits? Professor Barry Posner, author of The Leadership Challenge indicates that the results of over 250 studies show that outstanding leadership results in:

• Greater levels of commitment
• Greater teamwork and empowerment
• Increased productivity
• Higher performance and effectiveness
• Reduced turnover and absenteeism

A 2006 study by leadership development expert Richard Roi showed that companies with excellent leadership skills had income growth of 841% compared to companies with poor leaders which lost 49% of their income. Roi also showed that the stock price growth of companies with better leaders was up 204% versus only 79% for other companies. Another study showed that companies that invested in leadership training were more profitable during a downturn than those that didn’t.

Venturing into leadership development, therefore does matter.

* As published in WA Business News on 18 March, 2010

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