Al’s Column: Building the bench

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December 21/28; Volume 30/Number 13

By Mark Fernandes

Four years ago, our organization had the proverbial wake-up call with respect to the leadership gap. We looked closer at our work force demographics and realized that our bench was anything but deep and talented. This epiphany launched a multi-year project for an enterprise-wide leadership development and succession plan. By 2012, we developed a program that was rich in process, assessment and selection rigor. With this providing long-term clarity to the enterprise for career planning and advancement, we thought all was as it should be—but was it?

Within a year we began to hear varying degrees of satisfaction from our “high potential” associates. While each individual development plan had the same structure, we discovered that the level of personal involvement from the associate’s sponsor was highly variable. As sponsors we were either practicing the “set it and forget it” model or we were practically pouring ourselves into the success of our future leaders. To bridge this gap, we looked beyond the processes and program and identified a few values-based leadership competencies that we believe must be present when developing others.

Find your voice. We believe that the leader has to go first and while it may seem contrary, the same holds true in the case of developing others; the leader’s work starts within. Without question, you can’t be inspiring unless you yourself are inspired.

Believe in other people. I wrote a blog titled “Believing is Seeing.” In it I shared my thoughts on how we, as a company, looked at the world differently after embracing our core belief that all human beings have extraordinary potential. This in and of itself creates a climate and culture of growth and development.

Model the way. There is no better way to show others the importance of what you are teaching them than by doing it first and setting the example.

Cultivate and nurture relationships. In Mentoring 101 author John Maxwell wrote, “The best leaders understand the important role of relationships when it comes to success. And if personal relationships aren’t there first, people won’t travel far in mentor/mentee relationships.” Pouring yourself into someone’s life extends beyond remembering birthdays and keeping scheduled appointments.

Practice tough love. In Karin Hurt’s blog, “Tough on Results, Gentle on People,” she expresses the need to both “set high standards and serve your people.” Clarity can evaporate quickly when good performance is not celebrated and poor performance is not addressed.

Be a witness. Development is amplified when we can actually witness both good and bad performance, and engage in a developmental conversation in the moment. Witnessing requires you to be there, which takes us back to the relationship and time spent together beyond the meeting room and coffee bar.

While many organizations have initiated leadership development and succession plans with smart programming and detailed processes, the question is, are we being equally as deliberate with the human aspects of our programs as we are with the use of technology, processes and structural applications? Over the past four years we’ve learned that meaningful relationships are the foundation of all our work. Without this we risk landing right back where we found ourselves pre-epiphany—having a pretty empty bench.

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