Monday, December 10, 2007

Leadership Development is a Sunk Cost

I often hear that managers just don’t have time for leadership development. They are too busy learning a new part of the business, dealing with an employee performance issue, getting ready for a new project, negotiating a new deal with a supplier, onboarding a new supervisor, crunching a new budget, and getting ready for a visit from headquarters. Once they get all of that taken care of, and things settle down, only then they’ll have time to focus on their own development or the development of their managers.

Actually, all of these high pressure, job related activities are part of an overall leadership system. Every project, interaction with another person, task, or job change all have the potential to be developmental. As managers, we’re developing ourselves and others all the time. Usually, however, it’s pretty haphazard and unfocused. We’re learning a lot of lessons, and teaching lessons to others all the time. They just might not be the right ones.

So if we already have a leadership development system – wouldn’t it be worth our while to leverage this enormous cost? It’s not a matter of making an additional investment in leadership development – or adding more hours to our week – the investment has already been made – it’s a sunk cost!

For your own development, the key is knowing what you want to develop and proactively putting yourself in situations where you can learn those new skills. You seek out those that know more about the skill that you do, then watch, listen, and soak it all in. You take the time to reflect on what you’ve learned and figure out the right lessons to adopt. Successful leaders are always looking for new opportunities to stretch themselves and learn, they ask a lot of questions, they aren’t intimidated by someone that knows more about something than they do, and are constantly adapting their approach.

For developing others, you can be intentional in how you delegate, how you select a project team, who you spend time with during site visits, and how you communicate. When one of your employees makes a mistake, it’s a development opportunity. When one of your employees comes to you with a problem, it’s a development opportunity.

An executive once told me he spent about 75% of his time developing others. The opportunities are all around us, the cost is sunk, we just need to take advantage of them and turn them into powerful development opportunities.

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