Are You Using the Sink or Swim Approach to Developing Leaders?

sink or swimOf course everyone will respond “no” to this question but the truth is that it happens more often than you think. In many cases when a new supervisor steps into their first formal leadership role there may be all kinds of issues lurking that require his or her attention.  There could be a discipline issue, an FMLA case, grievances to address, teamwork dysfunction, disgruntled employees, etc.  Without prior leadership experience it quickly becomes a sink or swim situation. I recall a case where a supervisor was promoted in the fall of the year and his first opportunity to attend the leadership fundamentals class was in January.  Unfortunately appraisals were due in December.  He completed them doing the best that he could and relied on how he had himself experienced the process (which was probably not very effective).  It was definitely a sink or swim moment.

Leadership development encompasses a broad spectrum of skills.  Certainly there are the basics related to company policy, employment laws and administrative duties.  But more important is providing new leaders with the skills to communicate, motivate and engage their employees.

A systematic approach to developing leaders that starts with the basics and then builds on these skills and capabilities can go a long way in helping leaders be successful.  The first step is to help leaders understand themselves, their tendencies, their strengths, their weaknesses, their emotional IQ  and their leadership style.  This step can be accomplished prior to moving into a formal leadership position and may even help an employee decide if a leadership role is right for them.  The next step is to help the leader develop strong leader-employee skills including how to build trust, coach and mentor, provide feedback and recognize/reward.   Next teambuilding skills need to be honed to enable the leader to effectively engage their team and bring large groups of people together around a common purpose, instill ownership and enable them to flourish.  And finally, a leader needs to understand and relate to their employees how his or her organization brings value to the company and how they fit into the overall picture, giving broader meaning and purpose to every employee’s contribution.

Each of these four development steps, Self, Employee, Team and Company, builds on the previous step and form a sound foundation that can help leaders successfully navigate even in the most perilous waters.