Effective leadership essentially involves a leader’s ability to influence the behavior of followers in pursuit of goals and objectives. Therefore, those in leadership positions must possess the knowledge, skills and abilities that will allow them to influence the behavior of others.
“Organizational leaders must focus on developing the less experienced members of their organization if they hope to preserve the longevity and sustainability of their organization. Successful organizations typically include employee development as one of their strategic goals and have detailed plans for its execution,” says Mary Ellen Harris, director of Human Resources at Kreischer Miller.
Smart Business spoke with Harris about effective succession planning.
How do you bridge the generational gap?
What constitutes strong leadership characteristics and skills remain constant. In other words, leadership skills are universal and do not differ based on the age of the potential leader. However, in order to bridge the gap between generations, organizations need to be more focused on the communication methods and development vehicles employed in an effort to develop the members of the other generations, as opposed to focusing on the content of the development program itself. Don’t get caught up in the differences that people attribute between generations. Regardless of when a person was born, human beings possess similar core needs/desires such as being treated with respect, feeling valued by peers and having the chance to achieve goals. Bridging the gap is best approached by collaborating with the target group on the design of your leadership development program.
What are the keys to an effective program?
The best approach will include a combination of both formal and informal methods of developing employees. A useful informal approach is as simple as having successful veteran leaders within your organization spend time with aspiring leaders. The veteran leaders model appropriate leadership behavior and the aspiring leaders can observe how a successful leader performs.
You can also expose aspiring leaders to successful veteran leaders from outside of your organization, or provide recommended reading assignments such as books, journal articles and other respected resources to help them take responsibility for developing themselves.
From a more formalized standpoint, the inclusion of training classes and mentoring programs are effective techniques for developing leadership skills. In addition, incorporating leadership skills in your performance appraisal system and ensuring that employees are given specific leadership development targets, feedback and assessments is essential. Shadowing programs and short-term ‘leadership’ role assignments, such as leading a project team, are also effective.
Finally, formal education through college courses and internal training classes are effective leadership development strategies.
What role does context or environment play in the creation of an effective leadership development program for the next generation?
Context is a very important factor that influences the approach to developing your next generation of leaders. A not-for-profit organization will likely approach things differently than a for-profit organization, and similarly a large organization will likely approach development efforts differently than a small organization. The type of industry will also have an impact on the approach and options available for the development of aspiring leaders. For example, some contexts may not be conducive to the use of mentoring programs, but they may be extremely effective elsewhere. Similarly, shadowing programs work in some environments but might not be productive or feasible in other environments.
There is no one specific formula for preparing your next generation of leaders. It is imperative that organizations customize their approach and include such factors as the context, industry, size of the organization, and people involved in order to design a unique combination of methods and techniques that are best suited for the organization’s specific needs, goals and objectives.
Mary Ellen Harris is the director, Human Resources at Kreischer Miller. Reach her at (215) 441-4600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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