A few weeks ago, Adriaan Groenewald and I were invited to a leadership discussion by the Human Resources Director of a large and prominent bank.
As we sat together in his office, he asked the following question:
“We have a large number of high potential young individuals sitting in middle management leadership positions who are not interested in waiting 30 years to become executives in this business. We don’t want to lose them, but we are struggling to find a way to accelerate their climb…how do we fast track their leadership development?”
I immediately began my analysis by asking myself these questions: Why is it that the average age of a CEO is so high? What does a CEO or executive have that is different from their 30 year old counterpart? And how did they gain this?
The conclusion I came to then, and hold to now, is what separates a Chief Executive from his junior is confidence.
Now some young Masters graduate or other young fireball may be reading this and with enviable passion and clenched fist insist that they have the confidence needed to lead. To you I need to explain that this position is one of leadership arrogance more than that of leadership confidence. Do not let this statement offend you – please read on and I will explain.
As one unpacks the question our HR host put to us, we see two interesting points of view emerge – that of the CEO and his or her team, and that of the mid level leader. From the view point of the CEO and executive team, one of the reasons a mid level leader, although filled with potential and obvious energy, is not put into a position where he or she has more responsibility is that most junior leaders have limited or no real leadership experience. Does this young person perhaps have a good qualification from a reputable university? Maybe they do. Are they well presented and honest? We would hope and even presume so. Do they have a good work ethic and are willing to put the long hours in? Of course yes. But one thing they lack is that they have very little history of their performance as a leader to draw upon. And so the CEO and their team cannot with confidence and certainty endorse this young person at this stage of their career.
On the flip side of this coin is the young leaders themselves. Although filled with a desire to grow and develop, they (perhaps you) cannot with true conviction convince anyone of their ability to lead at a higher level because of a lack of evidence. Although there is a scattering of wins and successes, the consistency of such is in question. And so, are these young people truly confident? No they are not. Why? The answer to this may be found in exploring the concept of confidence.
William Hazlitt says this of confidence: “As is our confidence, so is our capacity.” And Roger Staubach adds: “Confidence doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s a result of something…hours and days and weeks and years of constant work and dedication.”
According to a study performed by the Higher Education Policy Institute, normal undergraduate students spend, on average, 27 hours in timetabled tutorials, seminars and lectures, and on self study a week. Using this figure, an academic degree qualification awarded in South Africa involves approximately 2400 hours of devotion. And here is the telling question: Of those 2400 hours, how many of them were spent on leadership development or leadership instruction? I have asked this question to many a leader and most, if not all, have admitted that if they had a total of ten hours dedicated to leadership throughout their entire academic journey, it was extraordinary.
And so, when we leave school or university we are confident lawyers, accountants, doctors, engineers and so on, but we are not confident leaders as our leadership capacity and confidence is limited as a result of our “constant work and dedication” being directed towards our professional, technical development.
And so the pattern has been established that we enter our chosen field of work and our journey begins with a very technical focus, for which we have thoroughly prepared through “hours and days and weeks and years” of focus and technical programming, and if we are particularly good at what we do, we are pulled out and made to take responsibility over others and their performance.
But where did we receive training for this responsibility? How can I be confident if I haven’t had any preparation? And the answer is that most leaders are not, and it takes them a long time to become so.
But “how do we fast track their leadership development?” we were asked. Our answer is connected directly with Leadership Platform’s definition of confidence:
“Confidence is trust in processes that work.”
Trust implies that it is a process that is tried and tested. Every day we engage in “processes” to get us through the day – from brushing one’s teeth to changing gears while driving a car to how we greet people – all of us use similar patterns or processes as we move through these experiences.
And so when an accountant is faced with an accounting problem, he or she uses an accounting process they learned while in university to solve that problem. But what happens when that accountant is faced with a leadership problem?
Quite simply, the accountant needs to have developed or learned leadership processes that they trust and implement them on that problem.
My earlier accusation of leadership arrogance is as a result of many leaders making “undue claims” to their abilities as a leader without having in place leadership processes they trust and that work. Arrogance finds its root in the word “arrogate” which is defined by Merriam Webster as “to make undue claims to having”.
Many leaders seem to instinctively choose the correct processes to use in a problematic situation, and so produce successful outcomes as a result.
Our answer to our HR Director friend is that the leaders they are trying to fast track need to consciously engage tried and tested leadership processes, and learn to trust and turn to these processes whenever and wherever leadership is needed.
If this is done, the CEO and his or her team need to trust less the overall journey of the leader in question, and instead can rely on their trust of the leadership processes they are encouraging their young colleagues to use.
And, in turn, these young leaders will become confident leaders much quicker because of the successful outcomes experienced through the use of correct leadership processes.
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