Many new front-line managers don’t have the luxury of personally handpicking their team members; they inherit them. Some may consider this situation unfair or daunting. In my opinion, it is truly the best incubator for developing strong leadership skills. Nothing is more gratifying than taking a team that was under-performing to superior performance, during your tenure. Besides, those are the types of leaders that have the biggest impact, and the ones that people want to follow. Imagine if you inherited a team that was already high performing and it completely crashed and failed under your leadership. I don’t think that would make for a good leadership book, do you? You can avoid that by reading my post on common mistakes managers make with their employees.
In Proverbs 27:23, Solomon told his sons to be diligent to know the state of their flocks. As a leader, you are only as effective as your team, and you need to assess the state of that team regularly.
In this article I will discuss a three-step process you can follow to accomplish this: Assess, Acquire, Apply. Developed by Development Dimensions International (DDI), this simple process allows you to put in motion a development plan that can yield results immediately.
The assess phase of talent development is where you gain an understanding of the competencies of each of your team members. While some resort to personality profiles and strength-finder tools, I find that the best way to assess strengths and growth areas is by spending quality time with your team members. A conversation over coffee or observing the way they perform a task or communicate with a client can tell you far more about your team members’ capabilities than any strength-finder tool can. This is because personality tools deal with fixed traits in personality. Your assessment, however, should be aimed at skill and talent level, which can be molded and developed over time.
During the Assess phase, don’t just focus on areas for improvement, but also look to enhance a skill that the person already does well. Otherwise, you run the risk of demotivating your direct report. Here are some simple steps to follow:
- Get insight from your direct reports on their strengths and growth areas: include them in the process
- Leverage data from performance reviews and 360 feedback surveys to understand each person’s strengths and areas for improvement
- Focus on one strength and one growth area at a time
Once you and your direct reports have identified the strength and growth area they wish to work on, identify opportunities to develop that skill. DDI encourages managers to determine opportunities that address three areas: the direct report’s personal goal, the team’s goal, and the organization’s goal. For example, someone might want to develop their presentation skills (personal goal). This same skillset, however, when applied to the employee’s work activities, can also support the team’s quarterly sales goal (team goal) and the organization’s strategy to build customer loyalty (organizational goal).
The acquire phase is where the real work begins. While your direct report will do most of the heavy lifting during this phase, you must be available throughout the process to provide support and remove barriers along the way. Follow the 10/20/70 rule for acquiring new information.
- 10% from formal learning
- 20% from coaching or learning from others
- 70% from hands-on or experiential learning
10 % – Formal Learning
Formal learning can include a class at a local community college, reading a book or attending a seminar. This does not have to be a long process, but it is necessary to obtain new skills the right way. However, it cannot subsist alone. Most people conduct formal learning, but fail to follow it up with coaching and experiential learning, which makes long-term retention of new skills nearly impossible.
20% – Coaching
Coaching or learning from others involves actively providing feedback to the direct report during the knowledge acquisition phase. Let’s go back to our previous example about learning effective presentation skills. The 10% for that person could be a course in Toastmasters International or a class at a local college. While taking that course, the student should be assigned a coach, someone who will evaluate their progress and provide feedback on their presentation skills.
Let me give you an example. Two weeks ago I attended a week-long leadership seminar to learn various tools and techniques on effective communication. This was my 10%. Following the seminar, however, I was assigned a coach to help provide further context around the material and help me practice the tools and techniques in real-time situations. This is my 20%. Can you see how formal learning and coaching complement each other?
70% – Do It
Lastly, the most impactful part of skill development is learning from experience. When I first became a supervisor five years ago, I was nervous because I had never held a formal leadership position before. When I expressed my apprehension to my boss, she said to me blankly, “John, you will not learn how to lead until you actually do it.” That statement could not have been truer. This takes us to the last step in the process.
As your direct report is acquiring the new skill, make sure that application of these new skills is immediate and progressive. Don’t wait too long after the Acquire phase to start putting the new skill to use; this can lead to atrophy very quickly. Remember, use it or lose it! Once application begins, build on the momentum by assigning tasks that are progressively more challenging. Three years ago I began learning project management methodologies. It was not until I completed my third project that the information began to really make sense and became intuitive to me. Effective learning takes time!
Developing your team is not option in today’s economy. In his book 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John C. Maxwell talks about the Law of the Lid. He says that as the leader your team will perform only to the level of your competence and effectiveness. The better you lead, the better they will perform: their performance is a reflection of you. Dave Ramsey, a well-known leader in the personal finance space, puts a slight spin on it when he says that you are the problem AND the solution in your organization.
In the Bible, a great leader is often compared to a shepherd. And similar to a shepherd who guides his flock and cares for it, your job as the leader is to guide your team and develop their talents. This is a noble calling, one that must not be trivialized or undervalued. Commit yourself to this act of service and watch your team’s performance soar.
Know the state of your flock!
– Led by the Book