We Wait Too Long to Train Our Leaders) that suggests that while the average age of a person in their leadership training database is 42, the average age of supervisors in those same companies is 33. In essence, the data suggests that people are in supervisory positions on average for 9 years before their first leadership training.
That means, for better or for worse (and usually the latter), people are getting their entry into leadership without any formal leadership training and learning whatever they can -- on the job. The results are what we see in our leaders today -- challenged to grow on the job while trying to figure out on the fly how to lead and develop others. It's a difficult task, no matter the relative strengths of the new leader.
There is another way. Consider the following foundational elements for your leader development program:
1. Train people for their next job today. This is the Army way. We train a young enlisted man on the duties and responsibilities of a Non-Commissioned Officer before he makes the rank of Sergeant. I got training before each new command and before each new rank. I spent 4 years at the Military Academy before leading my first platoon. Even after graduation, I still went to my basic training course for another 4 months before getting my first real leadership position. Let's commit to changing the leader development paradigm and get people the training they need before they move to a new position. OJT should complement the training. People need the skills and tools for a new leadership position prior to the assignment.
2. Make leader development a walnut. I'm sure you are all familiar with the "walnuts & rice" exercise. Fill a jar with rice (the day to day issues and activities) and the walnuts (our priorities) won't fit. Fill the jar with the walnuts first, and the rice will fit nicely in the remaining space. Leader development must be a walnut. We can't allow temporary pressures like budgets or the various urgent matters of the day to allow us to drop critical things leader development. For those who suggest they are cutting leader development to save the company, I would submit that you are not likely to be able to retain either your good talent -- or the company you hope to save! Unfortunately, this is one of those bad habits that are hard to break. Once you start cutting the walnuts, it is hard to fit them in later. Make leader development a priority. Make it your priority for your team. Be personally invested in what you are doing to grow and develop the next generation of leaders.
3. Invest in people 2 levels below you. The best military leaders with whom I have served always made it a priority to spend time with, evaluate, and mentor those leaders TWO levels below their own. It is not that the level directly below them didn't need the same. But, much as the HBR article linked above suggests, it is the younger leaders who really need the investment. It is not as if the level directly below is lacking for attention. They get it every day. Rather, the deliberate investment from military leaders is on those down 2 levels, giving them the sort of education they need for their next job (see point #1 above).
4. Augment training investments with feedback. We can't leave leadership training solely to trainers and HR people. This is a leadership priority. The feedback we provide subordinates must be a consistent mix of both technical and leadership competence. If subordinates only hear from us about execution and technical performance, be sure this is where they will put their energies. If they know that they are being evaluated on how they are growing and developing others, how they are performing strategically, they will respond accordingly. Sit down with your teammates and just talk about leadership.
This is not to suggest that OJT is not of any value in developing leaders. Nothing works like real practice. But, if our young leaders are practicing that for which they have no solid underpinnings, they will have no real basis for success. The results speak for themselves. We can do better! That's...Leader Business!
P.S. For my Southern California friends, drop me a note if you are interested in what you can do to invest in some of your leaders. I have a guaranteed solution!