3 Keys to Successful Leadership Development

The need to develop competent leaders is a no-brainer for municipal sewer and water teams, but the execution isn't always there. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

3 Keys to Successful Leadership Development

Every municipality wants to develop the leaders of tomorrow. By creating opportunities for talented and motivated workers to grow professionally, organizations give members of its workforce the ability to become more productive and add greater value over time.

However, even though the task of leading others is often deemed a priority within organizations of all sizes and types, a significant percentage of employees find themselves promoted to supervisory roles without formal leadership training of any kind. It’s an overlooked problem for some municipalities, and it’s one they simply can’t afford not to address.

“What’s your most valuable asset? It’s people,” says Terry Tennant of Phoenix-based Attainment Inc. “And often we find there’s much better systemized training for people on all sorts of technical things, but not leadership. And you have to ask yourself, why is that?”

With that fact in mind, here are three things to understand about fostering organizational leadership:

1. Leaders aren't born, they're developed

Without proper training, employees working in supervisory roles tend to rely on their technical acumen in their day-to-day activities rather than their leadership skills. Even worse, they often end up doing the work of their subordinates instead of zeroing in on their own responsibilities. Ultimately, company leaders end up feeling overwhelmed and organizational productivity decreases over time.

According to Tennant, an organization can measure just how effective a leader is by simply assessing how well his or her team performs when the leader is not present. 

Leadership development is needed in situations where the leader:

  • Is not holding some or all of the team members accountable.
  • Uses the power of the position, rather than coaching.
  • “Puts out fires” rather than finding long-term solutions.
  • Works long hours and does not feel like he or she can take a vacation.
  • Makes decisions or solves problems his or her people should.
  • Finds himself or herself in situations where people are often asking a lot of questions.
  • Sees employee performance suffer when he or she isn’t there.

“The role of a leader requires him or her to avoid managing by crises,” Tennant says. “Leaders need to manage by goals, and they need to be able to plan accordingly. All too often, leaders fail to realize their job is to get work done through others, and so they don’t communicate clear expectations, hold employees accountable, provide feedback and training, or consider what motivates others to be productive.”

2. It’s all about the team

In ensuring his or her team is performing to the best of its abilities, a leader must be willing and able to ask if poor performance is being caused by the employee:

  • Not knowing what to do (due to lack of communication).
  • Not knowing why a certain task or responsibility is important (due to lack of communication).
  • Not possessing the requisite knowledge or ability (due to lack of training or a poor hiring choice).
  • Not wanting to do it (due to lack of motivation).

“As a leader, you need to be able to find the real cause of poor performance,” Tennant says. “Those who can’t shouldn’t be in a leadership role without formal leadership development. The cost is simply too high.”

3. Managing others begins with yourself

Wasted leadership productivity is a problem for some municipalities today, largely because many people tasked with managing and motivating others are either unwilling or unable to manage or motivate themselves.

According to Linda Tennant, Terry’s wife and business partner, becoming a successful leader starts with the development of effective time management skills. Ultimately, she says, to be successful, leaders need to be spending roughly 80% of their time on the job conducting the following “high-payoff” tasks:

  • Communicating values, vision and goals.
  • Identifying high-payoff activities, key performance indicators and score cards.
  • Providing employee performance feedback/coaching.
  • Helping employees develop motivation, career plans and training plans.
  • Developing, documenting and improving processes.

While it’s incredibly difficult to set aside an appropriate amount of time each day or week to focus on high-payoff tasks and activities, it’s also vitally important to do so. 

According to Linda, leaders must work to schedule blocks of time to plan and work on them, control interruptions and delegate low-payoff activities. They also must convince every other member of their team to follow the same steps.

Ultimately, she says, success comes down to being able to identify a task that someone else could do better, for less time and money, or for their development. This will not only help free up time, but allow for it to be reinvested in high-payoff activities.

“Authority comes with a job, but its power must be earned,” Terry says. “Provide positive feedback, as well as coaching for improvement. This is the mindset we want to have: that we’re going to win together. Listen and value employees’ ideas and concerns. Develop others, and bring out their best. Follow through on commitments. And last, but certainly not least, hold people accountable.”

About the Author: AEM is the North American-based international trade group representing off-road equipment manufacturers and suppliers, with more than 950 companies and more than 200 product lines in the agriculture and construction-related sectors worldwide. AEM has an ownership stake in and manages several world-class exhibitions, including CONEXPO-CON/AGG.


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