In my role as an executive leadership coach, I routinely speak with senior leaders from a variety of industries. These men and women are often among the brightest and most “sharp-minded” people I’ve ever met, and I learn something from every conversation I have with them.
When discussing the strategic plans for their organizations, our discussions typically gravitate toward the innovation of new products and services; and plans to increase market-share in one or more of the industry verticals they operate in or desire to enter in the future. The topic of recapitalizing existing infrastructure, equipment, etc., is something that always comes up. These executives usually speak about these subjects with great excitement regarding what new technologies and tools can potentially do for their companies. There’s always mention of the ever-increasing presence of digital technologies—the “killer apps”—that are having a disruptive impact on their industries. These leaders are fully aware awareness that the world is changing and that “digital” is the way of the future.
When I broach the topic of their leadership teams and their plans to “recapitalize” the men and women who are currently leading and will lead their organizations in the future, I’m often met with silence. I’m always somewhat amazed that such highly successful business leaders seldom give any thought to the training and development of capable leaders within their companies. I find this to be the rule, rather than the exception; companies that often invest many millions of dollars in various aspects of their businesses, have little to no investment planned toward leadership development.
Given my profession, I am obviously “pro-leadership development.” During these conversations, I try to cause these exceptionally intelligent and highly-successful leaders to reflect upon the fact that the training and development of their leaders are not addressed in their strategic planning and is not currently something they invest time and capital toward.
One of my responsibilities as an executive coach is to cause these men and women to pause and reflect on decisions they are making that will literally affect their company’s chances of future success and survival in an increasingly challenging business environment. I feel obligated to point out that I think the strategic vision and plans they presented to me are very good and have a high chance of success, with one exception, they are ignoring the single-biggest factor in the successful execution of the plan—leadership.
I further emphasize to them that while the need to invest in new technologies is unquestioned, the deciding factor on whether or not their company is alive and thriving 5, 10, or even 20 years from now, will be the leadership team they planned for, invested in, and developed. I literally tell them that “leadership IS the killer app” and encourage them to do some reflection with that concept in mind.
In my opinion, leadership development and training should be a line-item in every organization’s annual and multi-year financial plans. I also believe that the investment in this area should be proportional to the goals and objectives of the chief executive and his or her senior leaders desire to achieve in the future.
I urge senior leaders to contemplate the wisdom contained in the ancient proverb quoted below, as it relates to the development of those who will lead their companies after they leave their office for the final time.
“Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” ~ Greek Proverb