How to build a leader

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Succession planning adds strength, with an eye to the future

Effective leaders possess the qualities to set an organization's goals, unite a staff and motivate them to achieve those objectives. These leaders also possess superb communication skills, integrity and passion.

While a boss performs tasks, a leader coaches and inspires others. They set the direction and guide employees' efforts to support the organization's mission. However, employees often get promoted to leadership positions due to seniority instead of possessing the knowledge and skills of a great leader. This is why it's important for organizations to prepare for change and succession by developing future leaders.

One of the essential components of leadership is the ability to recognize and act upon the need for leadership training in one's organization. This has recently happened at the City of Hamilton. With the majority of leaders at the City of Hamilton's Planning and Economic Development department eligible to retire within the next five years, management, led by Marty Hazell, senior director, parking and bylaw services, recognized the need to ensure they have employees who are willing and ready to step up and lead when needed. Staff from across the department are participating in Mohawk College Enterprise's Future Ready Leadership program, which is a series of customized leadership training sessions held one day each month, for eight months.

This program helps develop leaders and provides skills, valuable insight and the chance to develop behaviours that will prepare leaders for the future. Even "born leaders" can benefit from the opportunity to improve their skills to lead effectively.

Be strategic about which program you choose, who you train and when. Leadership training also has to be a part of something bigger. It has to be built into an organization's performance management program, along with coaching, rewards, team building, etc. It also has to have full support from the top levels of the leadership team. Jason Thorne, general manager of planning and economic development, demonstrated his commitment to the Future Ready Leadership program by opening the session on Day 1 by sharing his expectations and vision.

Another key to success is to incorporate experiential training, which means learning from experience or learning by doing. Experiential education immerses learners in an experience and then encourages reflection about the experience to develop new skills or new ways of thinking. Leadership training should also start at the top of the organization, with senior leaders committing time and energy into the program.

For the City of Hamilton, this was accomplished by MCE through the customization of the program by infusing project management training into the leadership curriculum. This allows the participants to work on five actual city projects while developing and enhancing their leadership abilities. This way, real work is getting done while employees receive training in leadership and project management.

Leadership development has to be tailored to overall corporate objectives that, in the business world, could include increasing market share, generating greater return on investment, etc. For the City of Hamilton, these corporate objectives are somewhat different. The City of Hamilton aims to be "open for business." City leaders and staff are focused on helping businesses build, expand and start up as quickly and efficiently as possible. But this kind of economic growth and community building can only happen with an effective, open and thriving administrative environment at City Hall.

An effective leadership program does not only benefit individual leaders. There is a broader corporate benefit that permeates the entire organization. This is an opportunity for city employees to shape the organization in which they will work in the future — and in this case — the city in which we all work and live.

Audie McCarthy is the president & CEO of Mohawk College Enterprise (MCE), the corporate training subsidiary of Mohawk College. Audie is a member of the Leadership Forum, a group of individuals who meet to discuss, analyze, question, deliberate and reflect on leadership matters.