Approximately 90% of the companies listed on the Fortune 500 list in 1955 are now gone. These companies have gone bankrupt, merged, or perhaps still exist but have fallen from the Fortune 500 list. Each year, 1 million new businesses are established and 40% fail before the end of the year. After 5 years, 12% survive and less than 3% survive after 10 years. Numerous studies show that the most important factor for sustaining long-term business success is leadership.
If leadership is so important, why do we focus so little on actually learning to lead? We spend time building business acumen, learning how to give presentations, and figuring out performance management systems. We sit through some training and perhaps read some books. But why do we spend so little time actually learning to lead? I’m not just talking about leadership at the top of an organization. I’m talking about leadership across an organization and leadership in positions where there’s no leader, director, manager, or whatever in a person’s title. To illustrate the need to learn to lead, I love to use an analogy from medicine.
A highly trained orthopedic surgeon has successfully conducted hundreds of knee and hip replacements. She is excellent at what she does, works with many residents and is repeatedly asked to share her expertise at medical conferences. One day, the medical director walks in and tells the orthopedic surgeon that she has been moved to heart surgery. The surgeon is stunned. She has no training or residency experience in heart surgery. The medical director senses her disbelief and says, “Oh, don’t worry about it! This is a great development opportunity, a real honor in fact. You’re crazy smart so you’ll figure it out as you go. You start on Monday.”
This example may sound nuts to you but think about it. Over and over again, we ask talented employees to lead and expect them to figure it out as they go. Let’s say that orthopedic surgeon was actually an accomplished scientist in a R&D organization. She’s excellent at what she does, works with other technical staff and is repeatedly asked to share her expertise at industry conferences. One day, her boss walks in and tells the scientist that she has been moved from her role as an individual contributor in the lab and will lead a large team that routinely interfaces with various functions in the business. She’s stunned. To her, it feels a bit like taking on heart surgery with no experience. Her boss senses her disbelief and says, “Oh, don’t worry about it! This is a great development opportunity, a real honor in fact. You’re crazy smart so you’ll figure it out as you go. You start of Monday.” Holy hot mess.
I know first hand that this situation is a holy hot mess because I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been in a similar situation as a R&D scientist and absolutely felt like I was taking on heart surgery. And, despite my own personal experience, I’m guilty of once being a manager that “delegated” out “opportunities” without providing critical support for my staff. I asked my staff to lead and didn’t always help them learn the necessary skills to do that effectively. Fortunately, I had some self awareness (and a crisis in a parking lot) and realized I had skill gaps that needed to be addressed. I needed to learn to lead myself.
Are you asking your staff to demonstrate skills they don’t have yet?
Are you feeling lost without leadership skills you know are important?
Consider our one-on-one coaching and peer group coaching programs. Learn to lead. We lift. You rise.
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” -John C. Maxwell