Lindsay Bell

CEOs: Team Leadership Training Starts at the Bottom

By: Lindsay Bell | May 1, 2013 | 

CEOs: Team Leadership Training Starts at the BottomLast week I wrote about humility in leadership.

And, as usual, I had some really interesting conversations with you lot.

Before I move on, let me just say this: The Spin Sucks community ROCKS!

Ok, back to the conversations.

One chat I had in particular, about team leadership training, really stuck with me.

It was with J.D. Robertson, who, after a little sleuthing, I discovered is Major James D. Robertson, which explains his military knowledge!

James left an impressive comment. A veritable blog post in itself. He spoke eloquently about how leaders are usually not born, but created. Taught. Coached. But this comment of his really stood out for me:

Leadership is so important to the military formal classes the subject begins in basic training. The higher the rank the more intricate the courses become. A prerequisite to certain superior rankings requires formal extended leadership training in an academic environment.

That got me thinking. Why don’t more leaders groom and coach the up-and-comers? How come team leadership training doesn’t start during that first “Would you like sugar with that?” job we all had at one time or another? Why isn’t leadership training a by-the-book prerequisite to moving up in your civilian career?

Leadership and Change

Warren Bennis became a leader as a 19-year-old army recruit (again with the military!) in World War II. He went on to write a library full of books on leadership and change, and when I stumbled on an old interview with him, I might have also stumbled on the answers to my aforementioned questions.

The best leaders are educators, and they really do enjoy bringing on people who can outperform them. It takes security and self-confidence and self-esteem to do that well. I’ve known people who kept down brilliant people because they felt they would be upstaged. But most leaders are proudest of a bench of terrific people behind them. This is something organizations don’t do enough of. I don’t know any that has a roster of terrific mentors and rewards them.   

Granted, the interview’s about 10 years old. Maybe things have changed. Either way, I hope today’s business leaders aren’t so fearful of one-upmanship they keep good people down, or fail to provide them with the team leadership training they need to become great leaders one day themselves.

Team Leadership Training

With that in mind, SmartBlog recently published “A CEOs Guide to Leadership Development.” Out of the 10 tips, here are a few that really resonated.

Know how executives really develop. In other words, take yourself back to when you were just starting out. What were the things inspired you? What opportunities did you have to learn and grow? Toss the courses and books out the window, and allow your employees to learn through experience. Assign new and challenging job responsibilities, or partner them with a senior staffer and encourage mentoring.

Spend time assessing talent. Yes, you’re busy. You have people! But an engaged CEO is one who believes leadership development can’t be isolated. Get to know your junior staffers. Do periodic audits of the best work being done in your organization – and include everyone’s work – from the kid in their first job to your top executives. Set aside some time each month for some casual face-to-face time with the junior team members who really impressed you.

Hold others accountable for assessing and developing future leaders. We’ve all been at ‘that’ company. The company that talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk. Oh, they do yearly personal reviews, talk about where you could improve or want to grow, promote personal development days, pat themselves on the back about the new learning initiatives starting soon, and a year later nothing has changed nor been implemented.

Full of Opportunity

As the CEO you need take the time to set the goals, red flag them, and then hold people accountable for their implementation. Publicly if need be. If your executive teams know you’re personally involved and expect results, they’re less likely to drop the ball.

I understand. You’re busy. But many of these points are simple changes in thinking, or might only require an extra half hour a month carved out of your schedule. Also, think about the return to your organization: Your reputation develops as a ‘go to’ company full of opportunity, and your staff grow into valuable leaders in their own right, who pass their knowledge down to the next round of new hires!

Because don’t forget, “A leader is not paid for what he does – rather for what he can get others to do, ” says J.D. Robertson.

I would love to know your experiences. Does your company actively seek out and nurture junior people for leadership growth?

About Lindsay Bell

Lindsay Bell is the content director at V3 Marketing, and works in Toronto. A former TV producer, she’s a strong advocate of three minutes or less of video content. She has a cool kid, a patient husband, two annoying cats, and Hank Dawge, a Vizsla/Foxhound/moose hybrid. Ok, maybe not moose.

  • Linds, really good blog post! You’re on a leadership kick lately. Are you trying to tell me something? I think back to the time I was coming up through the ranks. The person who took me under his wings taught me things that wouldn’t really be construed as leadership skills. He taught me to stop biting my fingernails, how to be comfortable in a suit, how to ask questions and listen – really listen the answers, how to speak in public, and not to wear big jewelry during presentations. I realize now, of course, he was preparing me for the job I have today, but most of the leadership training I’ve had – aside from that – has been on the job. And it hasn’t always been fun learning. So I try pretty hard to coach all of you in leadership skills. Hopefully I have the self-confidence you noted to let my team shine!

    • ginidietrich Great insight there. That someone takes the time to work with you on things like nail-biting, clothing, & jewelry means he’s taking you seriously not only as an employee but as a now-and-future influencer, i.e., leader. Your statement that leadership training isn’t always fun is important, too. Best bits of guidance I’ve ever gotten in business had to do with ways I was tending toward being a jerk Early on, I relied on my title and position for my authority, rather than my knowledge & insight. I owe a great debt to the people who pointed this out to me.

      • maxchristianhansen I was just having this very conversation with someone earlier today. It’s not about your title or position…it truly is about your knowledge and insight. Great comment!

      • maxchristianhansen ginidietrich Wow. Max I went through the same thing wayyy back in my career! I honestly didn’t *think* I was being a jerk (or abrasive, bitchy, what have you) – but clearly people were perceiving me as such. Someone that I highly respected pulled me aside and had a frank talk with me. I’ve never forgotten it. And I’ve spent the last 10 or 15 years working really hard at changing my reactionary tendencies.

    • ginidietrich I know – what’s wrong with me? LOL Seriously, I was just SO struck by my conversation with JD, and his comment about the military, and how they basically start leadership training when their recruits are babies! So frikken smart! And – being of a certain age – I realized “Hey! That doesn’t happen that often in the civilian world!” – mentorship is something else all together Gini. I’ve had amazing mentors in my day as well. I think *some* people are born leaders, but in the grand scheme of things, most people are not. BUT, they could be,w ith the proper support and training.

    • ginidietrich Also, I think your team is pretty shiny already. 😉

  • I’ve led and been led. I’m comfortable in either roll, but I tend to move to the front and take charge when the person doing the job is an idiot.
    In my humble opinion, the leader’s job is to make their team’s life easier. If it means teaching how to do something better or stepping in to add one extra set of hands, then that is what is needed.
    Those who think leadership means barking out orders, they are wrong (except in the Military, but that is different). A good leader will earn respect and  productivity will improve because they (I’m using the plural in place of the single pronoun for a gender neutral reference, which is controversial, I know, but I’m a freaking rebel) showed a desire for the success of the group overall, not just their own career.
    There is a meme going around about “When a girl is called bossy, I want her to be called a leader.” or something like that. It pisses me off.
    No, when a girl or boy is bossy, it means they are bossy. Bossy and leader are not synonyms. I understand the sentiment of the meme, but it is wrong. I’ve worked for a couple of genius women who were amazing leaders. It had nothing to do with their gender and nobody cared, they just listened and helped. We got a bunch done. It was fun.
    I’ve had great male bosses, too, and some horrible ones.
    I’m getting off subject, as I tend to do, but let me say this…
    …okay, even I’ve lost interest in this rant. I think I’ll lunch.

    • ExtremelyAvg LOL!!

      • ginidietrich ExtremelyAvg Making you Lay On Lawn always brings me happiness. My writing often puts people to sleep. Enjoy the slumber.

    • ExtremelyAvg HA! I think that’s another blog post! To your point, a leader’s job IS to lead, but where are those leaders coming from if we do nothing to sculpt and train them in the ways of leadership. I think it’s so smart how the military recognizes this – and begins to instill leadership skills, etc., as soon as their troops hit bootcamp! Every CEO should begin nurturing leaders from low level positions. Even in small ways.

  • susancellura

    Great post Lindsay! The piece that resonates with me is this, 
    “As the CEO you need take the time to, red flag them, and then hold people accountable for their implementation. Publicly if need be. If your executive teams know you’re personally involved and expect results, they’re less likely to drop the ball.”
    Especially, “hold people accountable”. I don’t see this happening as much these days, and it is quite worrisome.

    • susancellura I agree Susan, especially in larger organizations. There’s often a lot of public lip flap about “what we do for our staff” or “how we promote from within using such and such initiatives” – but then the CEO moves on to other things and the executive teams drop the balls! I’ve experienced it first hand myself. I’m really glad you liked the post, thanks!!

  • Hi Lindsay… I love stuff on leadership!  No big comment today, just a recommendation for you… if you haven’t heard of Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership, you should check it out.  Really insightful.
    –Tony Gnau

    • T60Productions Thank you Tony! I will definitely check it out – though Gini’s right, I have to get off the leadership kick for awhile. LOL

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  • Amen, amen and hallelujah!

  • Ms Bell – Thank you for your kind words! I regret my tardiness in reply – BUT (always a butt – this time mine in a sling) – a couple of weeks ago I threw down the gauntlet in front of an errant SUV that took offense and promptly and efficiently made an attempt to run over my left leg almost succeeding. I got even by abandoning my attempt to establish a meaningful relationship with the stupid thing and had the paramedics transport me to the hospital where I now reside. And will reside for several more weeks. Given a little more time and I’ll come forth with an offering more in keeping with your thoughtful musings! In the meantime have you had a chance look over the book I recommended a while back?