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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

May 18, 2019


Leadership isn’t just what you do in the moment - it’s the legacy you leave. This week we look at four steps to building a legacy of leaders.


Hello and welcome to episode 36 of the Leadership Today Podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we are looking at four steps to building a legacy of leaders.

Leadership isn’t just what you do in the moment - it’s the legacy you leave. In fact, the most effective leaders create a lasting legacy in people - they create more leaders. The effectiveness of a leader is best measured at least 5 to 10 years further on. Great leadership takes time - there aren’t many quick wins. It’s best to think of leadership as a long-term investment.

I recently spoke at a conference in Malaysia with a group of Doctors, mainly heads of departments in major hospitals from around the world, on this very topic. Hospitals are a tricky environment in which to identify and develop leaders - there’s time pressure, people spreading their hours across multiple hospitals, highly technical work - lots of things to grapple with. Perhaps you have similar pressures in your environment as well. But there are still steps we can take to make progress.

There are four things each of us can do to build a legacy of leaders:

1. Build Understanding - develop a clear and shared view of what ‘great leadership’ looks like in your context. People have often had poor experiences of leadership or have a limited view of what leadership is - that it’s about bossing people around or being taken away from the work that I enjoy. In workshops I ask people to share examples of great leadership. I’m always impressed by the range of answers given. The exercise helps people to understand that leadership isn’t one thing, and that people can be effective leaders in many different ways. That the best way to lead is firstly to be yourself. This helps people to broaden their view of what leadership looks like, and consider whether leadership may, in fact, be for them. That anyone can be a great leader - we all have something to bring and capabilities that we can develop.

2. Explore Aspiration - it’s essential to have development discussions to explore a person’s level of interest in leadership. I worked with a large organisation that had identified hundreds of people in a leadership high potential pool. But the people didn’t know they were in the high potential pool. It was all too common for someone from the pool to be tapped on the shoulder and offered a leadership role, but they had no interest in leadership. No one had even asked them if they aspired to a leadership position. Exploring aspirations makes a real difference.

3. Develop Capability - allow opportunities for practise, feedback and coaching. This can include step up, secondment and project opportunities, but with focused development attached. I’m a big fan of monthly one-on-one meetings that include discussion around an individual’s development. And you don’t need to do all the capability development yourself. You can help them to find mentors both within and outside the organisation that can focus on specific areas they’re interested in developing.

4. Provide Capacity - people need time to develop leadership capability, and this needs to be factored into the job design. A great question for discussion is how much time a person should have each week for leading others versus personally delivering work. Now I know you can’t necessarily carve out specific activities as pure leadership, but it intrigues me when people provide really low numbers - like 3 or 4 hours a week. A study in Harvard Business Review found CEOs spent between 32% to 67% of their time with their direct reports. In fact, they spent more time with their direct reports when they had greater confidence in them. Other research suggested each employee should have around 6 hours a week interacting with their leader to maximise engagement, rising to 10 or even 20 hours for innovation focused work. And increased face to face time with their leader saw a dramatic reduction in the volume of emails they sent and received. This data also suggests each leader should have a cap of around seven direct reports to be most effective - beyond that, the leader can’t dedicate enough time to leading people.

I encourage you to spend some time this week considering your own legacy as a leader, and how you can create even more leaders who can multiply your efforts and impact.