We have spent a couple of years researching leadership principles and training our first-time and longtime managers to become effective leaders. The transition from an individual contributor to manager and then to a leader is not an easy one and we are consciously helping our budding leaders by offering a tailor-made leadership program.
We firmly believe that leadership is much more than personality traits and the right process and deliberate practice can turn talented individual contributors into prolific leaders. Rather than jumping headlong into the best leadership program in the market, we took the time to pause and reflect on some of our fundamental assumptions about leadership and what has brought us success thus far.
As a result, we consciously stayed clear of some traditional leadership program initiatives like bringing in high-profile trainers, restricting the program to top managers, or just delivering short-term intense training sessions. Here’s what has paid off for us:
1. The flywheel
In his seminal book ‘Good to Great’, Jim Collins talks about identifying and working on the flywheel to bring about lasting change. The flywheel doesn’t respond immediately. There is barely any discernible change when compared with the effort invested, yet you continue to put in all your energy. Because, once the tipping point is hit and momentum is achieved, results can be seen much faster with less effort. What’s more, they are long-lasting as well!
Our work on culture and leadership development are integral components of our flywheel. We have our shoulder to the wheel consistently because that’s where we’ve placed our bet as an organisation.
2. Betting pool
As an organization, we bet on people – we’ve placed all our chips in this square. This doesn’t mean we have carbon copies of the leadership team running around or that we expect our team to stick to the clear instruction manual that has been created for them. We believe that leaders can both create and execute plans, so it’s not either-or but about doing what it takes.
The phrase “unleashing people” has become our catchphrase – for, we expect people to not only surprise us but also themselves. This means working with them at a level deeper than the typical skill or knowledge-building workshops. At the same time, a real bet is when you don’t use typical filters of experience or position when you decide who to invest in—the primary filters we use are performance and potential—this is what we bet on. So our program has folks with 5 to 15 odd years of work experience.
3. Vision board
A distinct vision requires distinct actions:
We believe that a learning organization truly comes alive only when every member of the organization self-starts and begins to look at not just what is needed for their job but also the needs of the others in their team and the larger organization. In essence, each individual in this organization is invited to take leadership roles of different kinds and leadership is not just restricted to the conventional “people at the top”.
Learning happens only when people engage with the idea not just intellectually, but in terms of application in their daily/critical context. When it comes to leadership, frameworks and fancy theories/fads however intellectually compelling rarely bring about transformation. We’ve learnt that individuals are open to ideas that make practical sense to their specific issues. They deal with challenges every day be it from the customer, colleague, team member, or personal life and they’re looking for real solutions. They don’t want to listen to TED talks and debate them, but make incremental, lasting changes on the ground.
The OrangeScape Leadership Program (OLP) is a monthly affair. It’s typically a half-day workshop-style session once a month, followed by dinner outside the office. Just making time to be together itself brings out insights for people. The time spent away from daily tasks to specifically think and discuss about developing oneself and others as a group makes it an invaluable space. This time gives space for individuals to step back and think about how they’re functioning as a leader and as a team. The collective inputs of the group tend to retrieve different insights yet all of them are grounded in the same context.
5. Proactive sharing
Share what matters with those who matter. During this leadership session, our senior leaders share their vision and perspectives on building the organizations (things that cannot be captured in a typical quarterly review or All Hands Meeting). The core values that have built the company are reiterated regularly. This makes more sense as the company scales and the leadership at the top tends to find themselves distanced from the emerging talent, they get an opportunity to re-establish a deeper connection. The DNA of the organization is shared with every interaction to a larger /newer population.
There is no secret ingredient
As we enter our third year of this experiment, the flywheel has started to move a little more smoothly, but as new people join our journey, we are redoubling our efforts to ensure that everyone is equipped to handle the responsibility of being a leader in their chosen domain/team. In fact, we are going to up the stakes by taking a few more of them into a deeper exploration of their natural propensities, inner will and see how that impacts their leadership capacities. The bet is still on and the odds are looking better.