Shifting our mindsets on leadership

I read an article yesterday morning about leadership. I know, I know… another article on leadership and people management. It’s my favourite part of organizations as it’s highly complex, constantly changing and, hands down, is the most critical part of any organization. The article talked about 4 important things that leaders need to do, in addition to communicating, promoting and enabling a clear vision. I actually read the article twice because I felt like something was missing but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

After I read the article a second time I paused and started jotting down my ideas. Through this exercise, I realized that, while the author of the article was 100% correct in everything he said, based on my experience, something was missing. Before I talk about what that thing was, I did a little bit of digging through my own blog on leadership-related articles that I published. One in particular, “Clarity“, basically confirms what the author of the article talks about. A great leader communicates well and often, explains the “why”, asks and gives feedback and works closely with their employees. We already know this. There is nothing new about this notion that excellent communication is a core component of strong leadership and organizational effectiveness.

What I realized was missing from the article was that leaders need to possess a mindset of “employee development”. What does this mean? When I started my career 20 years ago I learned the in’s and out’s of performance management methodology and strategy. It was based on the traditional approach of annual performance reviews that evaluated goal achievement, subjective values alignment and basic career management. Fast-forward 20 years and we all know that this traditional method of performance management does very little, if anything at all, to engage employees and boost performance. In fact, they do more harm than good.

One of the key drivers of employee engagement is the opportunity for employees to grow their careers, learn new skills and develop. Not only does research support this but so does the employee engagement work that I have done with so many organizations. Conversations between a leader and employee should focus on ensuring clarity of expectations AND focus on developing employees. Every piece of constructive feedback, conversations about projects and work activity successes, goals development and career management conversations should have an “employee development” angle. These conversations need to take place on a frequent basis, via a regular check-in. Waiting until the end of the quarter, or year, to provide feedback is a complete waste. The world changes far too quickly to let 1 full year lapse before talking to your employees.

For many of my industry peers who understand what I talked about in the last paragraph will likely recognize the term, “agile performance management“. What I described is essentially agile performance management, which is a term that was created in-line with the software development community in how they build software. It allows you to be iterative, quickly respond to changes and new priorities as they are happening in real-time, recognize great work and behaviours and so forth. At the heart of this shifting practice to real-time leadership and management is developing the employee. Aside from strong communication practices, it’s the most crucial component of the employee-manager relationship. My suggestion is to take a look at your current management and leadership practices and ask yourself if they enable frequent conversations to take place that are focused on ongoing employee development. Doing this exercise may uncover some interesting opportunities for the organization to leverage agile practice and methodology.

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