Do we forget how important leadership is in business?


Over the weekend I read an article in our local paper titled, Investing in the Forgotten Heroes, by Carla Jenkin. The premise for the article is the importance of the role of ‘middle-managers’ and the level of support and training they receive. Carla wrote:

Middle managers are the ones that keep the cogs turning and ensure the job gets done, not the chief executive. They are often not getting the support or training required so that they can maximise operations, as more senior managers tend to get the company-sponsored education opportunities…more businesses need to look at how their middle managers can be supported if they are to effectively lead people and manage the success of operations. U.S. research reveals that only 15 percent of an organisation’s performance is because of the influence of its chief executive.

Middle managers often feel the squeeze to lead and support their employees while implementing and overseeing directives from those above them in the hierarchy. They are less likely to be given training unless they are selected for talent-management programs and if they are offered training they are more likely to be too busy to attend…time and again organisations promote their technical people, such as top salesperson or their most skilled engineer, to a supervisor or manager position without providing them with the training and support essential for them to transition effectively to leading people and managing a unit.

In many cases if these middle managers participated in formal training and development, they would be exposed to new ideas and possibly, better ways of operating that would enable them to be more effective and spend more time working on the things that really matter instead of drowning in the day-to-day grind.

It is the supervisors and middle-managers who are the heart and soul of organisations and I agree with the article, they are regularly forgotten in the development cycle…especially leadership development. I take the point that senior leadership roles such as CEO and CFO have an important place in business. Whether the very high salaries and bonuses offered are justified is for a different discussion, however the additional benefits such as leadership learning opportunities should be spread around many roles, not the few.

The very first blog I ever wrote a few years ago was titled, Falling Into Leadership and it discussed the regular occurrence of technical specialists and employees who are exceeding in task-oriented roles, being given the opportunity to step up and lead and the challenges presented as expectations increase.

At this point, support and development are critical, yet are often missed as a core element of the process. Why do we then ask why this individual did not perform to the standard expected? An unfair question in an unsupported environment.

What is your experience with leadership development in business today? Do you have personal experiences similar to those  highlighted?

My wife sent me an email with a link to the Top 20 TedTalks since 2006, ranked by ‘views’. I watched the number 1 on the list by Sir Ken Robinson (>13m) and was so impressed and inspired I felt compelled to share with the remaining 6 billion people who are yet to watch his presentation (well, those who read my blogs may be a little lower in numbers, but it’s a start!).
I must confess I had never heard of Sir Ken previously, however, quite simply, his TedTalk is a must see! His views regarding learning, children and where we are getting it wrong are unique and thought-provoking. There are many outcomes that we are seeing as adults that link back to our childhoods and early education. There are also many key statements made that we can take away and apply to our own learning and application. Effective leaders will relate to many of these points.
I have also highlighted a few of the key quotes, for those who may wish to recap after viewing the talk – I would not skip watching it though, as Sir Ken Robinson has a keen wit and a style of delivery that is hard to match. I guess that is why 13.5 million people have already had a look. Spend 20 minutes now viewing it yourself – you will not be disappointed.

My contention is, all kids have tremendous talents…and we squander them, pretty ruthlessly. So, I want to talk about education and I want to talk about creativity. My contention is that creativity is now as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.

Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. They’re not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original…and by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies this  way. We stigmatize mistakes. If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.

In the next 30 years, according to UNESCO, more people worldwide will be graduating through education than since the beginning of history.

What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now that we use this gift wisely and that we avert some of the scenarios that we’ve talked about. And the only way we’ll do this is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are. Our task is to educate the whole being, so they can face this future. By the way, we may not see this future, but our kids will. Our job is to help them make something of it.