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By Kelly Riggs | Sales + Leadership

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Nov 14

There is Too Much Talk About Leadership

by Kelly Riggs


There is so much talk about leadership these days.

If you have any presence on social media – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook – you can’t go a day without seeing several articles on leadership. It seems EVERYBODY is in the leadership business. Everybody has an opinion.

Me included. Perhaps I’m the pot calling the kettle black.

But apparently there is no shortage of people who can tell you what leadership is all about, and what you need to do to become a better leader.

Whatever that means. Because there really is no common definition of leadership beyond the very basic idea that “leadership is influence.” Ask a dozen people what leadership is and you’ll get several completely different ideas, and several more nuances on the theme.

Leadership is consultative, and collaborative, and charismatic, and participative, and inspirational, and engaging. Leaders do a thousand different things: motivation, strategy, communication, decision-making, accountability, feedback, problem-solving, coaching, engagement, and far more. All of this while being equally authentic, transparent, and visionary. #exhausting

In 2016, Lolly Daskal wrote a piece for Fortune entitled “100 Answers to the Question: What is Leadership?

Exactly.

So, what is the point of all this? Simple – if leadership is this complex and challenging (and it is), why do companies routinely put people into these positions with little or no training or instruction?

More importantly, why are the expectations for the position of leadership not explicitly communicated? Because let’s be very clear: getting things done as an individual and leading a team of people are two VERY DIFFERENT skills sets.

Education, or Not?

Although it’s not always well appreciated, there is a lot to learn in order to be an effective leader. So, you might naturally assume that education is an essential part of leadership development.

Like an MBA.

Apparently, it helps. A bit. But not really.

In a 2017 HBR article entitled “What an MBA program won’t teach you about leadership,” authors Evan Sinar and Richard Wellins (both Ph.D.’s and employed at DDI) share some very interesting research data about the impact of an MBA on leadership skills. As it turns out, an MBA helps in some ways, but provides little help in others. According to their research:

  • An MBA helps with the skills of financial acumen, business savvy, driving execution, entrepreneurship, and influence.
  • An MBA doesn’t help with the skills of “compelling communication,” “driving for results,” or “inspiring excellence.”

Translation: In most cases, an MBA creates mostly business smarts, not leadership smarts. How many leaders have you seen with plenty of financial skills but lacking in people skills? Of course, that’s not always true, but the authors did survey 15,000 leaders across 300 companies, so neither is it a wild guess.

So, what kind of “education” will create an effective leader? That is the million-dollar question. And, undoubtedly, there are no shortage of experts to step in and tell you exactly what is needed, but let’s talk about what you should look for. An aspiring leader needs to learn, at minimum, four very specific skills:

  • Hiring and on-boarding – how to identify, interview, hire, and develop talent
  • Real-time performance management – how to set clear expectations, coach for improvement, and address performance issues
  • Planning – how to create a step-by-step plan to achieve the team’s objectives
  • Communication – the “secret sauce” to leadership; the ability to engage and inspire a great team

Those are the critical, cornerstone skills that translate into effective leadership, no matter the circumstances. These are the skills that allow leaders to fulfill their mission, which is to create results. Although they likely got promoted for getting things done, leaders don’t create results personally; they do it through others. This is why we define leadership as “the art and science of getting things done through other people.”

That’s what leaders get paid to do: create a team of individuals who get things done.

However…there is more to this story than simply educating the leaders. The system that supports the leader must be addressed as well, or things will go south in a hurry.

In 2016, Harvard Business Review published a remarkable article entitled “Why Leadership Training Fails—and What to Do About It.” The article reveals a fundamental reason why leadership education often fails to produce significant changes in results:

“HR managers and others find it difficult or impossible to confront senior leaders and their teams with an uncomfortable truth: A failure to execute on strategy and change organizational behavior is rooted not in individuals’ deficiencies but, rather, in the policies and practices created by top management. Those are the things to fix before training can succeed longer-term. It’s much easier for HR to point to employees’ competencies as the problem and to training as the clear solution. That’s a message senior leaders are receptive to hearing.”

In most cases, senior leaders are unwilling to invest in the development of leaders. However, when they do, they are often unwilling to address the systemic issues that hamper growth – items like organizational structure, strategic planning, and team collaboration.

The problem is, when the organization is dysfunctional even the best leaders will struggle. And, unfortunately, organization dysfunction is rampant. #indenial

Conclusion

Leadership is a journey. No doubt about it. One book or one seminar will never create an effective leader, and much of what makes a great leader must be experienced. Mistakes need to be made. Lessons must be learned.

However, while there may be plenty of talking heads who can tell you how to create great leaders, very few talk about the one thing that will limit the effectiveness of those leaders – a dysfunctional organization.

The truth is, there is plenty of opinion about leadership, but far too little being done about ineffective organizations.​​​​​​​

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About the Author

Kelly Riggs is a business performance coach and founder of the Business LockerRoom. A former national Salesperson of the Year and serial entrepreneur, Kelly is a recognized thought leader in the areas of sales, management leadership, and strategic planning. He serves clients ranging from small, privately held companies to Fortune 500 firms.

Kelly has written two books: “1-on-1 Management™: What Every Great Manager Knows That You Don’t” and “Quit Whining and Start SELLING! A Step-by-Step Guide to a Hall of Fame Career in Sales.”