Viewpoint by Mark Surrette, President, Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette
At a time when accessing global markets is so crucial to the competitiveness of Atlantic Canadian businesses, the world’s most advanced economies are experiencing a level of social and economic instability unprecedented in recent years. And the ripple effect of these unstable times – on consumer confidence, investors, trading partners and customers, touches all of us, both directly and indirectly.
Whether we’re talking about a country, a corporation, a non-profit, or a small family business, the value of strong leadership has never been so great. Most of the organizations I’ve worked with over the last five years recognize this, and they’re committed to doing what it takes to enhance the capacities of the leaders they have, and cultivate new ones.
Of course, political and economic uncertainty aren’t the only pressing factors. Virtually all countries in the developed world face demographic challenges. In Atlantic Canada, those challenges are especially acute. For instance, Nova Scotia is home to Canada’s oldest population, with more than 15% of residents over the age of 65. As these folks retire, they’ll leave in their wake a vacuum of knowledge, expertise – and leadership.
So what do we do? I’d argue that we need to try a new approach to leadership development that incorporates three fundamental principles: intention, discipline, and reflection.
Let’s begin with intention. Work without intention is like velocity without direction: there might be a lot of speed, but it’s going nowhere fast. Similarly, leaders who don’t focus their intentions on a core function of leadership – nurturing other leaders – often find their days are consumed with rushing from one problem to another. The trouble is, sometimes life’s most important work defies the “squeaky wheel” concept. Building the leadership capacity in your team is perhaps one of the most important functions of a leader, but in the short term at least, it can be easy to put off. Most leaders I’ve worked with know this intuitively, but many struggle to deal with it effectively.
By getting intentional in your efforts to nurture other leaders within your organization – and working toward it with the same sense of urgency that defines the problem-solving aspects of leader work, many CEOs and managers find greater success in developing – and sticking to – leadership development processes.
Next, you need to focus on discipline. No one got to the Olympics by training once a quarter, or even once a week. Similarly, enhancing your leadership skills – and those in the people around you – takes daily effort.
Discipline often means doing something you know is right – even though it may be uncomfortable. In the course of a busy day, taking the time to work on your leadership skills can be difficult to do. That’s where discipline comes in – making the commitment to fine-tune a crucial aspect of your overall performance, no matter how many other pressing matters you have on your plate.
The last core activity in the trilogy of good leadership development is reflection. Most of us live hectic lives, and we resist taking time out of our busy schedules to simply reflect.
But, in the words of Socrates, an unexamined life isn’t worth living. Taking 10 minutes each day – whether it be during your afternoon commute, or simply at your desk – to step back and view your actions objectively is an essential leadership development activity. Without reflecting on both your successes and your mistakes, it is virtually impossible to build upon or learn from them.
It’s also beneficial to help others reflect. Consider building a feedback loop into your daily activities. As the world moves faster, it behooves us to check in more. Whether you’re debriefing on a meeting with a colleague, or celebrating the completion of a project with a client, take some time to discuss the outcomes of the work, the process by which it was achieved, and the dynamics of the team involved. What worked? What didn’t work? Where was there tension? This is one of the best methods I’ve seen of improving performance, cementing relationships and identifying and dealing with problems – before they become big ones.
Leadership really comes down to support. Within a well-led organization, team members are emboldened to do their best work, because they know they have steady, supportive hands guiding them at all levels. We all need that.
Mark Surrette is the President of Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette, Atlantic Canada’s leading human capital solutions firm. He has extensive experience in successfully recruiting top talent for organizations of all sizes throughout our region.