Three Keys to Developing Leaders at Every Level

Top organizations take the time to design a leadership development process that builds the skills to execute strategy and aligns leaders to the business context according to the needs of their role.

There are a variety of ways to create effective development experiences for leaders. Companies that link their leadership development strategy to their business strategy, however, know that just as the work of leaders differs in breadth and intensity by level, so do effective development experiences.

Because not all leaders have the same needs, most businesses tier their leadership pipeline and development efforts into first-line, mid-level, and high-potential/senior leaders. We’ve organized how to best support your leaders at every level in the following list:

1. Strengthen First-Line Leaders

Organizations that develop first-line leaders enhance effectiveness as it plays out at the front line and create a gateway to a strong leadership pipeline. At the vanguard of strategy execution, customer satisfaction, service delivery, sales, and all other necessary functions in your organization, more than any other level of leadership, first-line leaders are uniquely positioned to have the greatest single impact on employee engagement and retention, successful customer interface, and organizational success.

The transition to first-line leadership marks a period of profound change in any career. Becoming a manager of people (responsible for the team’s able execution and for developing the individuals on that team) is fraught with difficulty. In fact, this transition is littered with failure. Linda Hill, in her seminal study of the transition into management, cites 20 years of research showing that this is the leadership “level in the organization from which come the most frequent reports of incompetence, burnout, and excessive attrition.”

We have found that it is critical to provide first-line leaders support with several distinct challenges:
• Establishing credibility with former peers and co-workers
• Building the managerial mind-set
• Learning leadership fundamentals
• Balancing managing and influencing across a wider swath of the organization

2. Realize the Potential of the Mid-Level Leader

“The World Is Flat” could easily have been the title of the history of organizational hierarchy as it has played out over the past two decades. Today, organizations are flatter and leaner. As a result, middle manager spans of control have increased dramatically at the same time they need to work effectively across increasingly matrixed organizations, with far less job security. In the not too distant past, the middle manager was akin to the “middle man”— unnecessary fat in the system. Purge it, people said, and everything would be much more efficient. We believe, though, that middle managers are the heart of an organization’s success—and research supports our intuition.

Some assume managing individual contributors is the same as managing managers. It is not. Leaders in the middle are uniquely positioned to make a significant contribution, because just as senior leaders seek their input on organizational direction, lower levels need them to make the link between strategy and the work. They are the focal point for translating strategic goals into action.

Moreover, because of the strength and breadth of their networks, they are in the right place to orchestrate and manage change as well as to see opportunities for innovation.

• Expanding knowledge of and ability to execute the business strategy
• Managing spheres of influence and strategic communication and influence skills that support non-positional leadership
• Identifying potential leadership talent and making them successful
• Balancing change with continuity and being agile, and encouraging agility in others
• Increasing visibility and broadening horizons

3. Nourish the High-Potential Leader

High potentials are in line to become the future senior leaders of your organization, and your organization’s future is strongly tied to the quality of its senior leaders. As such, high potentials need careful attention to ensure they have the capabilities necessary to sustain and drive your organization’s success. Our research shows that the most promising candidates for “hi po” designation have a strong intellect, highly acute technical capability (in the sense that they possess an in-depth knowledge of your industry, business models, and operations), emotional intelligence, adaptability, and a track record of success.

• Lead across multiple functions or business groups
• Ensure short- and long-term business results across the organization
• Analyze changes in the business environment and integrate conflicting strategic priorities to provide clear strategic direction
• Develop capability across the organization
• Champion innovation
• Manage internal and external visibility and networks

As you can see, leaders at each level represent a critical part of the organization’s leadership pipeline, and their particular needs must be addressed in your leadership strategy. AchieveForum’s experience in building and implementing learning systems for leaders at all levels means that your leaders can avoid the pitfalls that lead to failure, successfully take on their roles, and realize their promise as drivers of the future success of the business.

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