Leaders Are Everywhere If You Know Where to Look

Bob Wiesner | December 19, 2017

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Leadership is a level on the organization chart. In many companies, those who sit in this position aren’t all that great at leading.

There’s another way of looking at it.

Leadership is a mindset that’s demonstrated through skills, attitudes, communication, strengths, and grit. Leadership only exists when there are followers. And people at any level in the organization are more than willing to follow others who exhibit leadership characteristics. Org chart be damned.

The most effective organizations know who their leaders are, regardless of job title or function. And they put them in roles where they can really lead. It could be on new business pursuit teams, innovation teams, performance management / development teams, recruitment teams, culture teams, and so on. In fact, progressive organizations look for leadership roles for such people. Again, regardless of job title.

And if you want to have the strongest organization with the best people, you need to make a real effort to develop leaders at all levels in all functions. Don’t wait for them to earn a job title.

Building Better Leaders Everywhere

This McKinsey article makes a compelling case for how to find and cultivate leaders throughout the company. How many of these steps are you taking?

  1. Define what leaders do everyday. No matter your position, there are behaviors that define leaders and are available to you. Replace low-value activities with high-value ones.
  2. Help leaders use their time effectively. Yeah, work has to get done. But don’t bury or demotivate your best people.
  3. Double-down on continuous improvement. Feedback is urgent for leaders. Expect them to perform well. Give them feedback – and training – so they get even better.
  4. Change is just for other people – it’s for you. Inspiration is a core leadership trait. And it’s best understood as “leading from in front.” Make sure your leaders are walking the talk…taking on change…behaving in a way that makes followers say “I want to be like that person!”

It’s remarkable when you watch leaders emerge from the lower ranks, or from support groups outside the mainstream activities of the company. And it gives you tremendous flexibility, especially if you’re running a small-ish firm. For example, a younger person with outstanding leadership characteristics might be a better fit with a C-Suite prospect than the more experienced sales manager who lacks these qualities.

Here’s an added benefit: When you’re an organization who looks for, values, and develops leaders, you become everyone’s favorite company to work for. You’ll find talent in a bigger pool. Retention rates will be better. Culture will improve. Employee engagement will be higher. And overall results will rise.

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