MESSAGE FROM THE AUTHORS
month we introduced our series of articles on the responsibilities
of trusted leaders by identifying four categories of responsibility.
This month we start out with #1.
- Developing a community of future leaders.
- Fostering organizational vitality.
- Identifying and modeling appropriate personal attributes
- Consciously planning your legacy.
went back and forth trying to select the words to describe
this responsibility. Should it be a “cadre” of
leaders? A “group?” A “number?” A
decided on “community” because “community”
implies an interdependence, complementary strengths and interests
playing off of one another, and an agreement between what
might be very different people with different
interests to come together and build something for a greater
always, your feedback and comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
a Community of Future Leaders
When you think of trusted leaders, think of the small town.
Storekeepers, who may have disparate interests and beliefs
at the personal level, but respect one another nonetheless.
Who say things like “Can you make change?”
or “Will you watch my store for a few minutes while
I go to the bank?” Who care about one another and
who share a mutuality of interest in the town’s well
A community of trusted leaders is much the same. They take
the idea of a company that has a strong leader and a number
of skilled senior managers, each of whom might be able to
take command one day, and ratchet it up a notch.
community of trusted leaders is also a skilled group.
But these folks understand that although their own opinions
might differ regarding how the company should be run, it is
their duty to reach a meeting of the minds at some
higher level and to work as a united front against the competition,
and for their employees. And they extend themselves accordingly
to fulfill that duty.
realize that this is a tall order. It implies an openness
of and honesty in communication channels that is rarely seen,
even in great organizations. But we want to emphasize that
fostering this community is a viable goal – even if
it is difficult to achieve. Taking that thought further, we
should probably also note that we are not talking about an
extreme or extremely unrealistic scenario. We harbor no illusions
that a community of trusted leaders is made up of a closely-knit
group of soul-mates who never disagree about anything, and
who share group hugs each day after lunch. The people we’re
talking about can (and do) disagree with one another; in fact,
it would be odd if they didn’t. And they often compete
with one another. You may have a particular successor
in mind, but in this group, there should be several viable
candidates for the top job, and they should be aware –
but not wary of -- each other’s readiness to move up.
“The key difference between a group of qualified
senior managers and a community of future leaders
is the depth of understanding of what it takes to live
in the other leaders’ shoes, and the resulting respect
and level of communication that stem from that understanding.”
simply: the key difference between a group of qualified
senior managers and a community of future leaders
is the depth of understanding of what it takes to live in
the other leaders’ shoes, and the resulting respect
and level of communication that stem from that understanding.
does one go about fostering a community of future leaders?
Think about how you would finish the following sentence: In
an organization with trust inside, the future leaders would
. . . . . . ?
one answer be “the future leaders would respect
one another?” Would another be “the future
leaders would have complementary skills?” Would
another be “the future leaders would have a solid
understanding of how each department functions and contributes
to the whole of the organization?”
think about the people who are in position to “step
up.” Is there more than one likely candidate for the
top position? Are there several other people who will likely
be promoted to senior management sooner rather than later?
How are their current jobs designed? What would it take to
help these folks become the future leaders you envision them
a community of future leaders is like succession planning,
only squared. Once you’ve identified people
of integrity with high potential (and in the process, possibly
pinpointed some weaknesses in your organization that need
to be addressed), the idea is to consider how, when, and why
they’re being groomed for their next positions in the
organization, and how, when, and why they currently interact.
Then think hard about whether your current set-up is optimal
for community-building. What forums exist for the kinds of
interactions that build mutual support and understanding?
What formal and informal mechanisms are in place to get people
into new situations and to get shared experiences?
Groups into Communities
have seen and used a variety of tools that help turn groups
into communities. A “trade fair”
is one such tool. Trade fairs, essentially, are very basic
displays of the various businesses and assets in an organization
that are put up in trade-fair style so that participants –
your group of managers – can literally walk around booth-to-booth
to see what their colleagues do. A trade fair can be a very
successful approach to community-building simply because it
provides a relaxed forum for knowledge-transfer.
tool we’ve seen used is a “language guide”
– picture something along the lines of a British/American
dictionary. Different people from different parts of the organization
have what we call their own sets of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms).
Sharing the TLAs of a particular area is one of the ways to
build a community simply because it breaks down linguistic
barriers, which are often proxies for issues that are very
important in the organization.
idea: Synergy committees. Which cannot
and will not work, unless they are supported by an attractive
set of incentives and a sense of sincere commitment on the
part of senior management to give people some slack in their
performance measures while they devote some time to their
“synergy”-work. When given the choice between
“making your numbers” and “helping promote
synergy,” is there really any choice when the chips
are down? What would you expect people to do?
one company we studied, so intent was the top manager on creating
synergy among the troops, that he inadvertently created an
excess of -- we’ll be blunt – meaningless
meetings so that the higher-ups from various functions would
be forced to interact with one another several times a month.
An ancillary “new product discussion group.” A
happened? Predictably, the people in question quickly began
to resent the additional demands on their time. They readily
admitted that the new committees and so forth were interesting,
but they also knew that they simply didn’t have the
time to participate fully in those “extracurricular
activities” and still perform their jobs up to the expected
“You’ll know that you’re succeeding
in developing a community of future leaders when you realize
that the organization could indeed go on without you…”
problem was, since these new groups were contrived simply
to increase dialogue among the various managers, they didn’t
have specific goals, or end-dates. What’s more, no one
really knew what to do with any good ideas generated during
those discussions. These committees were simply left hanging
there – to no end, for no tangible purpose, and with
no reward. They didn’t serve to increase productive
dialogue. Nor did they set up their members as future leadership
teammates. Instead, they fostered resentment, “How
come he isn’t here today? What’s his excuse? I’m
here, putting in my two cents, but for what? So that I’ll
have 150 new emails waiting for me when I get back, and I’ll
have to skip lunch trying to catch up?” And they
fostered frustration, “That was genuinely a good
idea we came up with during the prior meeting. But it’s
just going to be lost in the shuffle. Who has the authority
to put any of our ideas into action? No one, it seems.”
service won’t get you anywhere with synergy committees
and their ilk.
know that you’re succeeding in developing a community
of future leaders when you realize that the organization could
indeed go on without you, and do quite nicely under the purview
of its new leadership team. (Think the “flip side”
of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” What if, in
George Bailey’s absence, everything had been just fine?
Now we know that’s sort of comparing apples to oranges
– we’re not talking about what if you had never
been around -- but you get the gist.)
litmus test? If you were to go to another company, would you
want to bring along that same team that you’ve assembled?
Perhaps more importantly, would they voluntarily reassemble
your organization fostered a community of trusted leaders?
Let us know.
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