The complexity of today’s economic environment requires leaders to develop a coordinated strategy to promote organisational sustainability and maintain a competitive advantage in the global economy. A leadership preparedness strategy focused on the development of future leaders facilitates a seamless leadership transition when planned. A leader’s challenge is managing talents effectively and meeting the organisation’s strategic business objectives by building a talent pool of future leaders.
Leadership can be learned, and there is no better entry point for development than those in frontline leadership positions. However, developing frontline leaders requires the commitment of an entire leadership community. Therefore, organisations experiencing leadership gaps must be prepared to make a long-term investment if they want to achieve lasting success.
In organisations, the frontline leaders are catalysts in driving sales revenue, brand marketing and promotions, improving customer relationships, solving organisational problems, and innovating regularly.
By developing frontline leaders, you will consequently improve the bottom line of the organisation.
There are strategies that can be adopted to develop frontline leaders. First, to support the professional growth and development of frontline leaders, the following approach must be adopted: Experiential Learning and Relational Learning.
It is pertinent to note that we must blend both experiential and relational learning for developing leadership competencies in a structured leadership development programme. This must be done in alignment with the organisation’s immediate and future business goals.
Second, we must define the competencies and capabilities required for the successful development of frontline leaders. It is on this premise that the following criteria should be considered: transitioning from being an individual contributor to leading a team, creative problem-solving abilities, delegation strategies, coaching and developing direct reports, conflict resolution abilities, relationship building skills and feedback and after-action reviews.
Third, the adoption of the leadership lessons of the military is another critical approach in the development of frontline leaders. The military defines leadership as both accomplishing the mission and improving the organisation. Permanently improving the organisation requires the development of its human capital. The military believes you substantively improve people by enhancing their ability to address challenges in their environment adroitly.
Modern corporate and business organisations operate in what the military defines as a ‘VUCA’ environment—broken down to mean volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, which are the constant realities in the 21st century. Based on these facts, the military seeks to prepare for the challenges it will inevitably face by crafting realistic training scenarios and routinely integrating such activities into its ongoing operations. The goal is not to teach its operatives what to think but to enhance their ability to think critically and creatively about the myriad of contingencies posed by a fluid environment. This is to teach them how to think.
In most organisations, 90 per cent of the time is typically devoted to executing business actions, and less than 10 per cent is allocated for increasing organisational and individual capabilities through training. On the other hand, the military spends as much time training as it does in execution, even amid deep stress or high-risk operations.
For example, a military unit on the front will not suspend its experiential training programme while involved in combat operations because its ability to cogently and creatively address future challenges is enhanced by an enduring commitment to improving people’s competence and adaptability through experiential exercises, as well as relational or actual experiences. But the real lesson for organisational leaders is not merely that training is essential. What’s valuable is how the military crafts its training opportunities.
Tips for developing frontline leaders are providing information, context and background and opportunity to practice.
The benefits of developing frontline leaders are increased engagement and productivity, increased retention and improved bench strength.
For increased engagement, highly engaged employees produce more. Great leaders who teach, mentor, and coach emerging leaders, are catalysts that drive organisational performance.
Regarding increased retention, we should understand that when emerging leaders experience first-hand the commitment the organisation has made to build talent and career development, it motivates them to stay and grow with the company.
And for improved bench strength, having the right talent, in the right roles, at the right time with the right skills, and living the company’s values supports a strong talent leadership pipeline.
Most organisations do not take succession planning seriously until it becomes a critical need. Great leaders think trans-generationally. Succession planning goes beyond merely occupying positions. It should be done for all cadres of staff, especially from manager level upwards. There should be a succession policy, and the organisation’s leadership should adequately document the structures, policies, and processes of the organisation.
Sobande is a lawyer and leadership consultant.