“It is the capacity to develop and improve their skills that distinguishes leaders from followers.”
Warren Bennis & Burt Nanus
Successful 21st century leaders clearly recognize the continuous need to grow in their professional knowledge, skills, and abilities to remain effective. We can easily recognize a leader that is stuck, going nowhere fast, and unable to personally recognize that their best days have passed. We each know one or more of these leaders.
How does this happen to someone who at one time demonstrated the ability to motivate others and successfully lead them on a path to achieve an objective, goal, or desired result? It happens too easily and very quickly when the leader decides that they know all they need to, they have self-actualized, see themselves at the top of their game, or they have become “all that”. I believe at this point in their leadership journey, they have become absorbed by the trappings of the status quo. None of us want to be that type of leader.
“If we do not plant knowledge when young, it will give us no shade when we are old.”
Attributed to Lord Chesterton
In my leadership journey I coined a phrase, “grow where you are planted”, that I used to describe the growth that must occur at every juncture of your leadership experience. Unless you continue to reach, stretch, or seek out additional knowledge, you quickly become yesterday’s news. Organizations are moving so fast and expectations of leaders are so high that yesterday’s news is not tolerated for long in the 21st century organization.
When I taught elementary school, I went to school each summer. I wanted to learn something “fresh” that I could bring into the classroom the following school year that would motivate, engage, and grow my students. As an organizational leader, I attended professional development events, read management and leadership books, and interacted with other peer and senior leaders. I wanted to motivate, engage, and grow my followers. It did not matter where I was working or what I was doing, I continuously sought out opportunities for professional growth. I was blessed in my later years of leadership to have senior leaders who supported my desire for growth and steered me to great opportunities that existed in the organization’s development process.
Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
As leaders, we must actively take responsibility for our professional growth and the growth of our subordinates. Recently I read in a Global Millennials Survey that 63% of the surveyed group identified that they would leave their present organization in the next 12 months because their leadership skills were not being developed. The newest generation in our professional workforce clearly recognizes their desire to lead and also understands that they must be professionally developed to achieve their desire. I am not an advocate for leaving an organization solely based upon the lack of professional development opportunity but there is a powerful message being transmitted here for leaders and organizations to pay immediate and close attention to.
Not all organizations recognize their responsibility to provide growth opportunities for their employees. Recently I was talking with a leadership professional who was attempting to arrange professional development events for her staff. The clear message she received from the organization’s senior leadership team was, “we do not do that here.” If you connect this “lack-of-growth” mindset with the millennials “we-need-growth” mindset, there is a serious collision coming for this organization; it will appear through a constantly revolving door of departing personnel.
Growth focused organizations must create a professional development process to meet the organizations needs and the desires of its personnel. Too often these efforts fail when they become more event focused and less about the necessary process that must exist. A development process brings with it the required time to attend, work load-sharing, and clear expectations of what success looks like for both the employee and the organization. An established process greatly increases the potential for success of the program, the individual, and the organization.
Professional growth is not an option and is a key attribute of both a 21st century organization and a 21st century leader. Is your organization invested, are you aware and energized, and are you making sure your people are engaged in it?