Your employees are still your most important investment

I’m beginning to think that Larry was a small but critical part of my development into a leader. He stands as the symbol for the metamorphosis that I went through while under his tenure. There were surely events that occurred in my earlier life that have been preparing me to be a leader. From my family to high school; sports to varsity. All of these experiences and life lessons cannot be relegated to the back benches in favour of a single period in my life as life changing as that period was. So I conclude that Larry having a massive influence over my life that he did was another cog in the still being built wheel. If there are three central cogs that keep this wheel turning, and if my father is one, my high school rugby coach (who was also the superintendent in the boarding house) is another, then Larry would be a third. Perhaps there are more than three of these cogs, maybe there are six or ten. What’s relevant right now is that there is more than one.

Larry has been a yard stick for every manager that came after him. Most have fallen short. Some have brought different perspective to how I view leadership and in that way have helped me grow as a leader. Others have shown me how not to be a leader. And I have taken their lesson to heart.

Sensitivity analysis is defined in the Business Dictionary as: simulation analysis in which key quantitative assumptions and computations (underlying a decision, estimate, or project) are changed systematically to assess their effect on the final outcome. So the question is how many of us as newly employed graduates do a sensitivity analysis to determine which variable skills or competencies is to be changed systematically and by how much to deliver the final outcome of the best leader? Or better yet, how many of our managers have determined this? How many are capable of determining this?

What I now appreciate is that Larry understood that my learning curve for skills would take care of itself and that if it didn’t hard work would do it. He also understood that he would have to take care of the competencies. You can teach (almost) anyone how to use SAP, make washing powder, run a boiler, run payroll, test a sample in the lab and so on. It’s a bit more difficult to teach someone how to talk to people, how to discipline people, and how to bring a team together. It gets increasingly difficult when their whole lives have been a lesson in the exact opposite. But it can be done. This is the first thing a manager needs to understand if he or she has any hope of being a good leader.

So what happens when you have been through this for a few years, and you have grown your leadership potential and you now have people reporting to you? The simple answer is that you apply the same principles that have helped you get to where you are physically and emotionally. But it’s not that simple is it? The position that you are in now means that you have to contend with a higher level of management, with different priorities. Your new manager is now asking you to forget about people and focus on results. Less time is given to building these competencies and all the focus is put on skills. To be fair not all of this can be put on the new manager. It is expected that at a higher level the focus will shift to profit a lot more than at a lower level. When the world is going through a recession you can also expect an organisation to shift its focus to immediate delivery of results. What I don’t understand is that even after people have been doing business for over two thousand years they still don’t understand that human capital is the biggest investment they have and that growing it will ensure the security of the future of the organisation.

Burning platforms are here to stay. The days of cash cows are numbered if not yet quite over. Resources are scarce and getting less. There is competition for both your consumers and your talent. Cash flow has become critical over the security of stock, while ensuring that your customers are serviced on time and in full. Does all this pressure translate to: we will no longer put as much effort in building leaders but will expect results based on the investment we have made on skills and experience? I believe that the message must be that we need to put conscious effort behind building (leadership) capability and not rely on managers to do this by themselves. The new business pressure does not mean an abandonment of what we know works to create new leaders but rather a change in the speed with which this is done focussing on impact and not process.

Larry had a natural talent for it. Not every manager does. They will have to be trained how to do this while they themselves are being grown as leaders. If this is not done there will come a time in the future when organisations realise that they have run out of leaders. This will be a great time for recruitment specialists and head hunters but with consequences that some organisations cannot afford. It is happening in some companies already. They have exhausted their pipeline for leaders and are having to recruit outside. They have failed to realise that human capital and not machinery is the priority and therefore have no plans to grow this investment in the future. They have run out of leaders and are now buying them from other organisations. And where does that leave the people already within the organisation who would have been looking to be given that opportunity? Besides a mass exodus you will have people that are disillusioned (which ultimately leads to them leaving anyway); you will create a culture where people believe they can only get to a certain level within the organisation before looking elsewhere but most important of all is that you start robbing the community and the country of a much needed influx of great leaders.

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