leadership-path-training2

Empower your future leaders to keep your teams soaring above the competition

Feb. 16, 2022
Every organization needs to have good leaders if the organization is expected to perform at a high level.
Every organization has several formal levels of leadership, typically five to seven levels. Hiring or developing people to assume positions of higher responsibility should be a major focus of every organization. That’s because every year people leave. Some leave because they retire, are promoted, or move to other organizations. This happens at all levels of the organization. Therefore, there will be a constant need to find suitable persons to fill open leadership positions. It’s true for operations, maintenance, procurement, human resources, and every other department.

Ideally, organizations should have a system that develops leadership potential. In most cases, it’s best to develop the leadership capabilities of a current employee, rather than it is to hire a leader from the outside. Why? Because current employees are known quantities. They have demonstrated their capabilities, their temperament, and their commitment. They have fostered relationships and networks that enable them to get things done.

Outside hires are often unknown. They may have a great resume. They may have aced the interview process. But we really don’t know if they are a good fit or not, until they start doing the job. Sometimes they work out. Sometimes they don’t.

Levels of leadership have differences and similarities


Each level of leadership requires different things from the people selected to fill those positions. For example, a supervisor of hourly wage persons is expected to anticipate things that affect his/her team in the next weeks to a couple of months. Senior managers and executives, on the other hand, will be setting strategic direction and positioning the people under them to achieve that strategic direction. Strategic activities may take years to achieve.

There are often differences in the number of direct reports. A supervisor will typically have eight to 12 direct reports. I was in one (poorly performing) organization that had 40 direct reports to one supervisor, with no lead persons. A senior manager or executive might have a few direct reports, and they may have other support staff that take care of routine administrative tasks.

The more direct reports a person has, the more time he or she should be spending on development of his/her direct reports. Too few direct reports is inefficient, and too many direct reports is ineffective.

It’s important to understand that the scope of accountability will be different between leadership levels. However, regardless of leadership level and scope of accountability, leaders require the same leadership capabilities.

Critical leadership levels


In my view, the most critical level of leadership is the lowest formal level: the line supervisor level. That’s because supervisors tend to have the highest number of direct reports. Supervisors directly influence the largest percentage of people and tend to have the least preparation and experience in leadership capabilities.

Supervisors and newly minted professional occupation managers (such as engineers or contracting officials) tend to get insufficient leadership training and development prior to being assigned to leadership roles. The 2021 Alidade MER/Plant Services Leadership Survey showed that the typical supervisor received no leadership training before being promoted to supervisor. And, on average supervisors received less than five hours of leadership training per year.

Managers should anticipate that at some point they will retire, be promoted, or move on to other opportunities. They should anticipate that the supervisors that report to them will either retire, be promoted, or move on to other opportunities. It makes sense, therefore, to identify candidates for future leadership positions and develop them prior to assignment to higher positions of responsibility. Invest time and effort to educate, train, coach, and empower these candidates.

The things a leader needs to know


The first thing a leader needs to know is whether they actually want to be a leader. Leaders should take a little time and contemplate if they are comfortable with being accountable for the performance of others. If so, then, they should think through and create a personal mission, personal vision, personal values, and personal objectives. Each prospective leader should ask themselves if their personal mission, vision, values, and objectives match with their current and anticipated positions?

Leaders need to know leadership roles, attributes, and skills. Leadership roles are where a leader allocates their time while acting in their leadership capacity. The roles can be categorized as expert/technician, manager/administrator, coach, systems thinker, and visionary.

Leaders should be doing very little expert/technician activities; exceptions are when they are short-staffed or during true emergencies. Leaders should be spending a substantial amount of time as a manager/administrator making sure their team has what they need, when they need it. Coach means spending time helping your direct reports learn new things and to improve. Systems thinker is spending time working on the policies, plans, processes, procedures, and measures that guide your direct report’s performance. Visionary is looking into the future to see things that are outside your team that may impact your team. Depending on the organizational level, different percentages of time are spent in each leadership role category.

Leadership attributes are the characteristics that a leader conveys in their interactions with others. These include being consistent, attentive, respectful, motivating, and assertive. The first letters spell CARMA. Consistent is doing things the same way so people know your expectations and how you’ll react. Attentive is simply paying attention to the way things are being done. Respectful is treating others in appropriate ways; being professional, considerate, and courteous. Motivating means to help people to feel encouraged, inspired, and excited to perform their jobs. Assertive means taking action when something needs to be done, correcting performance or giving positive feedback when it’s noticed.

Leadership skills include the things we typically think of when we attend leadership training. It includes time management, communication, empowerment (delegation), giving and receiving feedback, and conflict resolution. Time management allows us to allocate the right amounts of time for leadership roles and for the leader’s own professional development. Communication skills are important to ensure everything is clearly understood up and down the organization. Empowerment, combined with the coaching role, is how we transfer knowledge and skills and build confidence in others. Giving and receiving feedback is how leaders learn from their team and how they guide their team’s performance. Conflict resolution is used when there are issues with getting things done due to differing priorities.

Leaders also need to know about position and personal power: what they are, how to enhance them, and how to use them. Position power is power delegated to a person in a leadership position from senior leaders. It is formal power. Personal power is power that is willingly given to a person by others, based on a person’s expertise or trustworthiness. The best leaders tend to lead through personal power. However, they are not afraid to use position power when it’s appropriate.

A leader needs to know how to influence others properly. Leaders should understand various needs and motivation theories. Examples include:

  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  • McClelland’s Needs Theory
  • Hertzberg’s Motivator-Hygiene Theory.

These models help us to understand how to motivate people. Note that influencing is intended to guide people toward the right goals and objectives for the team or organization. It is different than manipulating people. The connotation that manipulation implies is that it’s done mainly for personal gain. Never manipulate, or have the appearance of manipulating others.

Leaders need to know how to set interim goals that help the team to be focused and motivated to achieve organizational or team objectives. Making the goals SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Specific means clearly defined so everyone knows what is expected. Measurable to  monitor quantitative progress. Realistic means that it is achievable with the resources available. Timely, meaning there are deliverable dates for completion or periodic reporting.

Formal and informal leadership


Before I get too deep, I want to clarify the differences between formal and informal leadership. When I use the term “formal” in reference to leadership, I am distinguishing between the leadership positions that can be identified in an organization chart. Informal leaders may, or may not, have a title, but they darn sure contribute leadership to the organization. Informal leaders can be constructive or destructive depending on who they influence and in what direction.

Constructive informal leaders tend to have an excellent understanding of what’s important to the organization. They usually possess good to excellent people skills and are professional in their interactions with peers and people above them in the organization chart.

Constructive informal leaders are important. They should be the first people you look to when considering an internal promotion to formal leadership positions. That’s because informal leaders have already demonstrated leadership capabilities and will likely have a shorter learning curve to develop the needed capabilities for higher responsibility.

Promotion candidates


In the 2015 and 2021 Alidade MER/Plant Services magazine leadership surveys, there was a consistent finding. About half of the team members (hourly wage persons) responded that they had no interest in becoming leaders. It’s great for folks to know what they want. Leaders should still invest time and effort to get those persons to the pinnacle of their trade or profession. Get them training and experiences to continuously improve their knowledge and skills in their chosen fields.

Of the other team member respondents, about one out of four persons, saw themselves as becoming a leader within the next one to two years. The other 25% or so said they were interested in becoming a leader sometime in the future.

If a shop has 10 team members, five of the team members don’t want to become supervisors. That leaves two or three people that see themselves as a supervisor in a year or two, and two or three that see themselves as a leader at some point in the future.

Current leaders can use this information to talk with their team members. Ask them about their career ambitions. Determine who sees themselves as a leader in the future (in a year or two, or at some point in the future). Of those that see themselves as a prospective leader, ask yourself if you see them as a leader. Do they have potential? Is that person a constructive informal leader?

How can you evaluate the readiness of a prospective leader? Above, I described a comprehensive set of leadership capabilities. If you identify a person as a constructive informal leader, dive a little deeper. Make a list of the items I outlined and compare the candidate to each of the criteria. Here’s a concise listing of the leadership capabilities:

The individual

  • desire to be accountable
  • personal mission, vision, values, and objectives that align with the leadership position they are being considered for

Leadership roles

  • expert/technician: can they accept minimized time doing this
  • manager/administrator: comfortable and competent
  • coach: has knowledge and experience with coaching methods and good interpersonal skills
  • systems thinker: ability to diagnose, solicit input, and improve processes and procedures
  • visionary: ability to look at things outside their team and anticipate and make changes.

Leadership attributes: consistent, attentive, respectful, motivating, and assertive

Leadership skills

  • time management
  • communication
  • empowerment
  • giving and receiving feedback
  • conflict resolution

Power

  • comfortable using position power when it is needed
  • has developed personal power and would use it the majority of the time
  • uses the right power for each situation

Influencing others

  • engages with team members and peers to identify needs and motivations
  • uses that knowledge for team member task assignments or development opportunities

Setting goals

  • knows how to set SMART goals
  • uses leadership capabilities to consistently achieve goals.

Think about whether the person wants to be accountable. What evidence is there? Do they step up with ideas and volunteer to take on tasks with greater responsibility? If you don’t know, you probably have your answer. Accountable people stand out. Talk with them to understand their personal missions, visions, values, and objectives. Will a leadership position be aligned with their personal outlook?

If you use the above items as a checklist, you quickly see which capabilities they have demonstrated. Items that they have demonstrated with proficiency are good to go. Prospective leaders may not have 100% of all these productive leadership capabilities. To be a good candidate they should have been given the opportunity to learn and apply at least 80% of these elements.

As a team member, or individual contributor, the candidate may or may not have had the opportunity to demonstrate all the elements of leadership capability. For items that the candidate has not fully demonstrated, or has not demonstrated at all, these show the gaps that need to be worked on. Provide that candidate with training/education, coaching, empowerment, and practice.

As a leader yourself, you should have the time management, communication, empowerment, and giving and receiving feedback skills to identify and develop these candidates. Manage your time to interact with your team members. Provide coaching, training, education, and opportunities for the candidates to learn and demonstrate new abilities.

Keep the checklist of capabilities for each candidate. Update the checklist as the person demonstrates each new capability and becomes proficient. Candidates that meet the most leadership capabilities and other considerations are the first to be offered open leadership positions.

Additional points


When a person transitions from being an individual team member to a productive leader, they need to make a shift. It’s no longer appropriate to focus on the person’s technical or professional skills. Their job going forward is to achieve the best possible performance from their team.

Teams achieve their best possible performance when the team has what they need to perform and when they feel valued. The things people need include direction, guidance, and assets. Direction includes the mission, vision, values, and objectives of their team. Of course, their team’s mission, vision, values, and objectives must be aligned with those of the larger organization.

Guidance includes the policies, plans, processes, procedures, and measures that inform team members of what needs to be done and how. Whenever guidance is being developed there should be input from the people that will be expected to adhere to the guidance. If there are gaps in guidance, start with establishing or updating higher level guidance; policies before plans and procedures. It’s always better when higher level guidance is established before lower level guidance is developed. Guidance cascades downward.

Assets are the things needed to carry out guidance. Properly developed guidance identifies the funding, labor, tools, equipment, software, and other resources that are needed. Without having the assets needed, there is no way for a leader, or their team, to properly carry out the guidance.

People will feel valued when they have a voice in creating guidance and when they have what they need to carry out the guidance. They also feel valued when the leader gives the team credit for doing things well. And, when things don’t go well, they feel valued when the leader accepts accountability for not putting the team in a position to have done better.

The bottom line


Every organization needs to have good leaders if the organization is expected to perform at a high level. Ideally, every current leader in the organization is accountable and has all the required leadership capability. Promotions, retirements, and job changes create open leadership positions.

When a leadership position needs to be filled, it’s most often best to fill the position from the ranks of your current employees. In order to fill leadership positions with the best possible internal candidates there should be a continuous effort to identify and develop the best candidates.

There are a number of steps that help identify good candidates. First, have a defined set of leadership capabilities that you can compare candidates against. The checklist above is a synopsis of the Productive Leadership Model found in chapter 4 of my book, The Productive Leadership System; Maximizing Organizational Reliability.

Second, get to know your direct reports. Identify those who are interested in becoming a leader. Start a leadership checklist for each prospective leader. Note if they are already a constructive informal leader. Check off whether they have consistently demonstrated proficiency in a large percentage of the leadership capability elements. If they have demonstrated but are not proficient, or if they have not demonstrated the capability, note that on the checklist. You now have a set of capabilities you can train, educate, and coach the prospective leader. Go forth and do great things.

This story originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

About the Author: Tom Moriarty

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