Isn’t it odd that certain professions require a certification process, yet being a leader doesn’t require one? Social workers, CPAs, lawyers, doctors and other professionals all went through some type of licensing or exam process, yet leaders don’t even require an MBA.
What if there were pre-requisite courses required for leadership? What would that curriculum look like?
In truth, it’s almost impossible to pick a standard leadership course because leadership is situational. Just think about the type of leadership required in a government office versus a tech startup. How about the variation in leadership between a non-profit and a for-profit business? Also, are we talking about leadership for the workforce of today, or the drastically different workforce of the future? While the core competencies needed for effective leadership won’t change 100% from situation to situation, there will definitely be nuances.
Taking nuances into account, I wanted to give this hypothetical curriculum a shot. What pre-requisite courses would I propose? As you can imagine, after over 20 years of coaching corporate leaders, many ideas came to mind. I took a deep dive into my professional and personal experiences to surface with five courses that I think will benefit all leaders and set them up for success.
Five Pre-Requisite Courses for Leaders
1. How To Use Accountability to Get Results
Leaders set their teams up for success by employing consistent accountability. More than that, they need to hold themselves accountable too.
You hear this story often: Juan, the employee, works hard in his current position, has a positive attitude, takes initiative, and contributes greatly to his team’s success. Gwen, Juan’s manager, takes notice of Juan’s dedication and knowledge, and suggests they talk about a role with additional responsibility, which means a new title, and a higher pay grade. One month goes by, then two, then three, and still there is no talk of the advancement. Juan follows up with Gwen, who responds enthusiastically but sets no specific timeline for the conversation. Eventually Juan feels like he’s been led on, and that Gwen doesn’t hold herself accountable for her promises. Juan starts to feel unappreciated and matches Gwen’s behavior by completing his work with less urgency. His engagement dwindles as he starts looking around for other opportunities. What we see here is an organization losing talent due to the lack of accountability of its leader.
Talking the talk isn’t enough; you’ve got to walk the walk consistently for effective leadership. If you are accountable for all that you say, you will challenge others to do the same.
2. How to Cultivate Creativity for the Bold, New World
We are in a bold, new world where innovative solutions to organizational challenges are imperative. Today’s companies are global and inundated with rapidly changing technology. Not to mention other changes, like a new generation filling the many spots left by Baby Boomers as they retire, the rise of temporary workers, and more. All of these shifts require new and creative solutions.
For example, a software company that was previously at the top of its market begins to face irrelevancy due to the fact that its product does not include any social media components. The company needs to come up with an innovative solution that not only updates the product, but also surpasses the competition.
The leader of this organization, Leon, sees that they need an innovative solution, and they need it fast. He puts together a capable team of product developers and creative strategists, who turn around a possible solution in just three days. After testing the solution, it becomes clear that it is not only unviable, but the competition is doing it better. If Leon looks at this situation as a total failure with harsh words for the team, and responds to that failure by scrambling to put together a different team, he has squashed an opportunity for innovation.
To cultivate creativity, leaders must leave room for failure. Innovation requires new and untested ideas. Failure during the process only pushes the team to create more ideas as they move closer and closer to the best solution.
3. The Importance of Purpose
As Aaron Hurst says, “The future is Purpose. It is what is driving innovation and radically reshaping careers and organizations.”
Consider this: By 2020 (five short years from now), 50% of the US workforce will be from the Millennial (Gen Y) generation. Everyone wants a sense of purpose and Millennials especially do. Leaders need to learn how to find, cultivate and express their organization’s purpose, in addition to their own individual purpose, which involves prioritizing personal growth.
When an organization is more aligned with a greater purpose than quarterly results, and when people understand how their role fits in to that greater purpose, everybody wins.
4. Resurrecting the Lost Art of Listening
What is the point of hiring experts if we don’t listen to their ideas? And why is it such a challenge for leaders to listen?
To begin with, we are often not even taught how to listen. To make matters worse, leaders are expected to have all of the answers.
To further master the art of listening, leaders should be fluent in all three forms of listening.
- The first form is the typical conversation style of listening. You’ve already figured out what a person is trying to say, and are just waiting your turn to share.
- The second form is the ability to incorporate body language into listening. Often a person expresses one thing (like enthusiasm) verbally, but their body (arms crossed, chin down) is telling a completely different story.
- The final tier is energetic listening. With this skill, leaders can sense a shift in the room when it arises. When someone is angry, insecure or fed-up, a skilled listener will be able to sense it. For example, a leader might say, “Wow, I really felt a shift in the conversation when I mentioned the fact that we need to put you at 90% project management with our new client. What are your thoughts on that?”
When it comes to listening, leaders should also learn to ask open-ended, advice-free questions 80% of the time. It’s a real game-changer!
5. Understanding the Close Relationship of Strategy and Organizational Culture When Facing Change
As organizations evolve, there often comes a time where its strategy needs to be reevaluated and changed. This could be due to competition, changes in the market, increased or decreased resources, and even climate change.
Changing strategy requires change in the organization. Because organizations are systems made up of people, and not just machines, organizational change can be a challenge. People inherently dislike change for the sake of change and will resist the change. So in order to successfully change strategy, leaders need to make organizational culture a major component of the plan.
Let’s look at an example: A state university has a high retention rate, with many employees working at the university for over ten years. Leadership decides it’s time to update the main computer platform that is used for key elements like scheduling courses, managing grades, and evaluating requirements needed for graduation. Suddenly there is an email requiring all staff to complete a three-week training course on the new platform within the next six months. The staff has no problem with the current system, as they’ve been using it for years. They don’t want to have to learn a totally new program and they don’t want to interrupt their work schedules with training sessions. So they resist the change. They complain. They miss training classes or refuse to attend. The culture becomes “us against them” and the staff feels like leadership is on a different planet than them. It doesn’t take long for all the complaining to create a negative and sometimes even hostile culture.
It would be easy for leadership to say, “What is wrong with you people?” Yet, instead, the leaders should note that there is collective wisdom in the resistance. There are always upsides and downsides in every situation; rigid change will bring the most resistance. So it’s important to take a hard look at the organizational culture, and let that inform how and when things change as strategy evolves.
So there you have it—my five pre-requisite courses for leaders cover: accountability, purpose, creativity, listening, and paying close attention to organizational culture during times of change.
Next week I will share some valuable input I received from my LinkedIn peers when I asked them, “You don’t have to be “certified” to be a leader, like you do in order to be a CPA. Imagine we get to design a curriculum that is a pre-requisite to becoming a leader. What would the top 5 classes be?”
Now for the fun part—what classes would you require? I can’t wait to hear about it. Please share the top five classes leaders should take from your perspective in the comment section below, via email or find me on Twitter.