Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Grooming leaders

By Steve Rossetti, Synergy

You hear the expression a lot: Somebody is a natural-born leader. It may refer to the battlefield, the ballpark, the political arena or the boardroom.

But is it true? In some cases, yes. Certain people may have the traits to put them ahead of the crowd. But leaders can also be trained and nurtured.

The private sector allocates billions of dollars to leadership development because it knows that skilled leaders are a powerful investment. Companies know that effective leadership is the cornerstone of every organization and can instill productivity, job satisfaction, engagement, retention and overall profitability.  Summarizing it simply, it affects the bottom line.

The value of an effective leader can be measured in many ways: retaining good employees, mentoring future leaders, creating a profitable culture that values a team approach and supporting a company’s financial growth.  There are also intangibles like garnering employees’ respect, admiration and an overall enjoyment of working for someone who has effective leadership skills. 

However, according to the Stanford Social Innovative Review, less than 1 percent of overall foundation grants went to leadership development between 1992 and 2011.

So why is something that is so critical often ignored, minimized or left to chance? How do successful nonprofit organizations look and identify leaders when they are hiring?

Although there is no magic formula that will guarantee how effective someone will be as a leader, there are a few techniques that can help. Here are three steps to help hire the right person and invest in his or her growth:

·      Establish a hiring process that includes effective screening, interviewing and assessing of job candidates

·       Invest in potential leaders by offering leadership training. 

·       Develop an evaluation program that allows managers, colleagues and employees to offer input.  

The best place to start is to have a framework assessment of the leadership position and knowledge of the qualities, skills and aptitudes a person needs to be successful in a particular position. Each candidate should go through the same interview and assessment steps, which includes a battery of questions specific for the position. Each answer should receive a numerical rating from the interviewer.  Making sure the “right” person is being selected should be more of a science than guesswork of feelings or emotions.

Once hired, individual employees should have a tailored-leadership development program that provides specific training, tests for knowledge and supports ongoing learning. Regardless of how long someone has been in a leadership role, ongoing training and coaching is essential. 

Being in a leadership role is challenging for many reasons in today’s workplace. Therefore, having an arsenal of skills and techniques can help.  A training program should include courses that strengthen skills and techniques that are needed to be a great leader in any organization.

Some areas that are essential aspects of great leadership are:  effective communication skills, performance management, motivational techniques, dealing with difficult employees and building effective and strong teams.

The third and final step is for the leader to receive feedback.  Self-evaluation and assessment is difficult, if not impossible, to do objectively and impartially. 

A tool that can be used is a 360-degree evaluation, which polls members of an employee's immediate work circle.  Most often, 360-degree reviews will include direct feedback from subordinates, colleagues and supervisors, as well as a self-evaluation.  The purpose and objective is for the leader to receive comprehensive feedback about how they are performing and provides the leader a comprehensive overview of strengths, as well as opportunities for growth.

Developing and grooming leaders is not only significant to the individual’s work experience, but borrows a page from for-profits, it’s significant for the overall health of the organization.

Steve Rossetti is the director of training and development at Synergy. He has conducted training, consultation and executive coaching in corporate settings, school districts, correctional facilities and nonprofit organizations for over 25 years.  He attended Eastern Illinois University and earned a psychology degree and graduate degree in education psychology

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