Blog RSS
Border Background
  1. Hiring new talent? Here’s how to spot a potential leader

    September 13, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Having a strong leadership pipeline is a sensible strategy for any organisation. Identifying, nurturing and retaining high potential employees at the start of their careers is a strategy that pays off handsomely.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to hire an enthusiastic young gun with the skills you need now, and then have them move up the ladder with your organisation? Ideally, you would spot a candidate with high leadership potential and then nurture them, helping them to grow into the leader whose aptitude you so astutely spotted way back. The long-term health of an organisation is much better when hiring managers can identify those with the potential to grow into a leadership role and excel at it.

    The problem is, it can be difficult to know what skills will be needed next month, let alone further into the future. As Daniel Goleman has written, ‘the only certainty about tomorrow’s business reality is that it will be ‘VUCA’: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.’ Technological change, globalisation, economic uncertainty, demographic shifts and an increasingly data-driven business environment mean that we are less likely than ever to be able to predict the future of any industry, let alone our individual businesses.

    With the help of the right recruitment tools, your organisation can identify people who have the right skills for the role and the organisation right now, and the ability to master new skills that may be needed later. Critically, you can also learn to spot the right attitudes and behaviours that identify a new hire as a potential leader.

    These are the personal characteristics to be on the look out for when you interview future leaders and when you decide what personality assessments to use in your hiring process.

    Social and emotional intelligence

    People with high social and emotional intelligence understand both themselves and others and how to manage emotions in each. They make others feel valued and can motivate them with their enthusiasm and positive attitude. They are consistent in their actions, able to show empathy and compassion, are honest and always act ethically and responsibly.

    Motivation and a degree of selflessness

    Potential leaders can inspire those around them to be their best selves. They are not egotistical or driven by self-interest, but by a genuine desire to inspire others to do their best. They know that their success always depends on the willing co-operation of others.

    Openness to feedback new experience and information, learning

    Potential leaders are curious about themselves as well as the world around them. They ask good questions and listen carefully to the answers. They look for feedback from others and learn from it and from their mistakes. They understand collaboration and can identify strengths in others that will contribute to great outcomes.

    Persistence

    Willingness to work towards difficult goals without giving up when things are tough, resilience to continue in the face of setbacks an to learn from failure are hallmarks of good leaders. Those with high leadership potential are able to motivate others and to keep going even when times are tough. They enjoy challenging both themselves and those around them.

    The precise mix of characteristics and how they combine with hard skills will be different for each organisation. Identifying what you need now and into the future is a complex tasks. Challenge Consulting’s suite of psychometric tests can help you to identify potential leaders to match your needs now and into the future.

    Contact Challenge’s People Solutions Team on [email protected] or (02) 9221 6422.


  2. Why a structured learning program wins when preparing leaders for the next level

    August 30, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Leaders at all levels can be daunted by the thought of moving from their present level to the next rung of the leadership level. Whether they are going to be leading a team for the first time, making the transition to mid-level management, or stepping up to lead a business unit, transitioning leaders can easily feel overwhelmed by the challenges they face.

    Structured programs that address development needs at each level are the best way to address this. A leadership transition program includes hands-on learning, coaching and formal learning. Surprisingly, only 37% of organisations have a structured program to ensure smooth leadership transitions, according to the Global Leadership Forecast 2014/2051 by DDI and The Conference Board.

    As well as increasing engagement and retention and improving the quality of future and current leaders, structured transition programs across all levels of the leadership ladder have a very significant effect on financial performance. The study found that companies with a leadership transition program performed 13% better than average.

    We’ve taken a look at what helps to smooth the leadership transition. Some key findings are:

    • Learning to lead must be handled differently for each level. First-level leaders, mid-level leaders and senior-level each require a unique approach.
    • Hands-on learning in the workplace through setting tough challenges, with plenty of face-to-face contact, is preferred by 90% of transitioning leaders over technology-based and online learning, whether it is instructor lead or self-directed.

    What does this mean for organisations that are developing structured first-level leadership programs?

    Those who are going to lead teams for the first time do best when their leadership transition program involves three key elements:

    • Developmental assignments
    • Formal training
    • Coaching

    Developmental assignments are rated as the most effective method of growing new leaders. This involves the first-level leader taking on challenges such as handling new or different responsibilities, starting a new project or making strategic changes to an existing one,

    Formal training in the hard skills and process capabilities, such monitoring, target setting and applying incentives is absolutely essential.  Mastering hard skills, whether through academic study or workplace learning,  is the most important factor in performance, according to the Study of Australian Leadership. As they put it, ‘Workplaces with better fundamental management systems and practices experience improved workplace performance and employee outcomes, above and beyond other leadership factors.’

    Many institutions offer great courses in leadership, from managing staff in a small business to MBA-level learning in developing to senior management roles. Take a look at the AIM website for a wide range of leadership training options for each level, or Kaplan Professional’s aspiring and emerging leaders’ courses. There are plenty more too.

    Coaching from the current manager is another effective way that first-level leaders learn, according to respondents in the Global Leadership Forecast, with coaching by others in the organisation and coaching from external coaches seen as less relevant at this level.

    Identifying those with the potential to be leaders is vital. They can be identified using objective measures, such as those offered by Psychometric assessment team at Challenge People Services.

    Identifying readiness to step up to a new level of responsibility is important as well, and is not the same as identifying potential. Simulations that present challenges that the high-potential might face in their new role give organisations the opportunity to measure whether they might be able to meet the demands of the new role within a shortened period of time.

    Developing leaders at every level who are capable of taking the organisation on the strategic journey it has identified is at the core of business success. We have looked at what works best for first-level leaders: developmental assignments, formal learning and coaching. Future posts will look at what works for mid-level and senior-level leaders.


  3. What Australia needs to do better

    August 23, 2016 by Alison Hill

    The Olympics are over, and Australia didn’t do as well as we’d hoped. The post-mortem has begun and the leadership is being blamed. Chef de mission Kitty Chiller was too controlling, had ‘muddled team ideals’ and made policy on the run, says the Guardian. Former head swim coach Bill Sweetenham says the entire swimming hierarchy must step down. The recriminations will go on.

    Sport seems not to be the only area in which Australia is falling behind – a recent leadership study finds significant weaknesses in business leadership and management that are hurting our future performance and prosperity. The Study of Australian Leadership was conducted by Centre for Workplace Leadership at the University of Melbourne and reported its findings in May. The SAL says we have reason to be concerned about the state of leadership and management in Australia, and that we are in danger of being unable to address future challenges.

    SAL highlighted seven areas of concern. The gaps and weaknesses we believe are most worrying for Challenge clients are these four.

    1. Many Australian organisations do not get the basics right

    Management fundamentals are not up to scratch, the survey found. Performance monitoring, target setting and using incentives were found to be lacking, and the survey rated these as more important than leadership capabilities and self-efficacy (a leader’s belief in their ability to lead). The good news is that these are skills that can be taught and learnt.

    The study showed that investment in leadership capability pays off in better performance and more innovation. Workplaces with a range of leadership development activities not only have more capable leaders, they also believe in their capacity to excel.

    This leads us to the next important finding.

    1. Too many Australian organisations underinvest in leadership development, especially at the frontline

    When organisations do spend on leadership development, they are focusing on the wrong places. The SAL showed that for every $10 spent on training for senior leaders, only  $1 is spent on frontline and workplace leaders. Yet training for frontline and workplace leaders improved performance and drove innovation more than training for senior leaders did.

    The study found too that many leaders are not well trained for the job, with one in four senior leaders in the private sector having no formal training beyond secondary school. While it concedes that formal qualifications are not everything, it points out that formal training provides a basis for many of the necessary skills, from technical too problem-solving and change management.

    This could be related to the next finding.

    1. Leadership in Australian organisations does not reflect wider social diversity

    It is still dominated by older men form English-speaking backgrounds, according to the study, with women, younger people and those from Non-English speaking backgrounds underrepresented. It points out that diversity is good for business performance, leading to greater creativity and innovation and higher commitment and engagement at work. Since a key finding was that innovation is driven by quality leadership and management and is a critical source of productivity growth and competitiveness, this matters at more than only an ethical or social level.

    1. Many senior leaders do not draw on strategic advice in making decisions about the future

    The study identifies three levels of leadership: senior organisational, workplace level and frontline leadership. At the most senior level, leaders must scan the external environment, interpreting the myriad factors that will influence the competitive position of their organisation. Yet few senior leaders are turning to associations, consultants, experts and the insight of other senior leaders for advice. The study points out that leaders need many sources of insight and information, they cannot make sense of how external challenges will influence their organisation in isolation. Not drawing on strategic advice leaves them vulnerable to poor decision-making, especially in a climate of uncertainty and disruption as we are experiencing now.

    Australian sport and Australian business both have a lot to learn about leadership, it seems, before we can truly be winners. Anthony Mitchell, co-founder of strategic leadership firm Bendelta, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald put it this way: ‘We are now smart enough to recognise that the most important driver of business success – the quality of leadership – requires a level of science proportionate to its impact.’ More on that next time.


  4. How constructive criticism helps us thrive

    July 26, 2016 by Alison Hill

    So much of what we do at work, from giving and receiving performance reviews to learning to be a leader and coach, rests on being able to give and receive feedback. Although it can be scary, people actually thrive on criticism when it is constructive.

    Good feedback is the quickest way to learn do things better and to change our behaviour. Yet we fear and avoid it, for good reasons to do with the way the human mind works. We find it threatening both to give and to receive criticism. It doesn’t have to be that way.

    A colleague recently participated in a writing workshop and told me how much she had benefited from what others had said about the work she’d presented. ‘Well you’re good, so of course they would say so,’ I told her. ‘No, it was when they told me the things I hadn’t done well that I really learnt something’, she said.  ‘It hurt, and some of the group were pretty harsh, yet when I thought about it later, I was grateful. I reworked my story and it was a lot better.’ Then she told me how hard it had been to give constructive criticism, especially to people she didn’t like much or when she felt the work had few redeeming features.

    I reminded her about using the ‘sandwich’ method we’d learnt in parenting classes: positioning a slice of negative criticism ‘cheese’ between two pieces of positive feedback ‘bread’. ‘I did that, and I felt like a fake’, she told me. ‘I could see they were just waiting for me to get to the bad bit, and didn’t really hear the good news. I was uncomfortable because I knew I still had to say that their dialogue was unnatural and their grammar was all wrong, and my unease made them uncomfortable too.’ It seemed the conventional wisdom wasn’t working.

    She then shared with me how the group had agreed to a better method after that first awkward session. They decided to be transparent about how constructive feedback would be given, and all agreed to follow a process. My friend described how much better she felt about giving and receiving feedback when the emphasis shifted to making shared, informed choices about how to improve. Of course, sharing creative writing in a group setting is not quite the same as having a one-on-one conversation about workplace performance, but the principles still apply.

    Giving criticism: the criticism sandwich v the transparent approach

    Instead of: ‘The report is well written and interesting. However, there’s not enough detail. You’d better find the figures and add them in before the presentation at three. I love the layout though’.

    Describe what you see, and agree on the facts

    ‘I’m concerned about the lack of detail in this report and how that might have affected our business case. I’d like to go through some details and see if you see the same things. I’m open to the possibility that I’ve missed something or that I’ve not explained what’s needed. Once we agree on the size of the problem, let’s decide what we can do.

    Decide how the work could be improved

    ‘So you agree there should be more data and explained that you needed more time to do the research. I’ll have Tom cover your client calls for today and you will find the data and add it to the report before the presentation.’

    Commit to implementing the feedback where appropriate and sharing the results

    You’ll get the revised report to me by two, so that I can check the figures. Next time I’ll be more realistic with timeframes and you’ll be clearer about your process and ask for help if you need it, so there are no last-minute surprises in future.’

    How did implementing this transparent approach work in my colleague’s writing workshop? And how can we apply what she has learnt to the workplace?

    She now feels more genuine in the feedback she gives, and less defensive about receiving it in return. The group as a whole feels confident and comfortable about sharing the good and the bad aspects of each other’s work. She’s preparing her manuscript for a publisher – a step she said she would never have taken without the constructive and transparent criticism of her peers.

    Managers have to give criticism regularly, and it can be tough. Employees are bound to receive it, and in a healthy workplace giving and receiving feedback from peers can present growth opportunities too. Practicing good feedback techniques will stand us in good stead no matter where we are. So describe what you see, negotiate a mutual solution and commit to implementing good feedback.


  5. How the best leaders become coaches: lessons from the field

    July 5, 2016 by Alison Hill

    Being a team player, touching base, big wins, level playing fields – not to mention  dropping the ball and getting it over the line –  are just some of the terms from the sports field that we use at work. So when we decided to address the topic of leadership coaching, we decided to ask a successful sports coach for tips that we could translate to the workplace.

    When Adam took over as coach of a club soccer team, they had come last in the previous season’s competition. They weren’t too discouraged, as they were mates who liked playing together, but they had no expectations of winning. Three months into this season, they have won eight games in a row and stand a good chance of winning the entire competition. So what’s changed? And how did they get there?

    As I spoke to Adam, the parallels between coaching a group of 16-year-old boys in football and leading a team at work became clearer. Last season’s coach/manager has moved on. The team is ready to play but not highly motivated. They lack some skills and resources, and above all they lack belief that they can achieve. These are the steps Adam took to turn the team’s fortunes around.

    1. Observe and learn

    For the first few training sessions, Adam watched the players, assessing their skills and attitudes and observing how they worked together as a team. He didn’t step in or change anything until he had this figured out. Adam then worked out what he needed to learn himself before he could support the team. He realised that he couldn’t teach them hard skills in the time available, but could suggest areas of improvement for each player and an approach to learning new skills.

    Lesson: The best coaches start by truly understanding the team they are working with before they rush in with solutions. They know that self-education has to come before teaching others, and empower their teams to be responsible for their own skills development.

    1. Plan and consult

    Once he had observed the team and was familiar with their strengths and weaknesses and how they worked together, Adam make a plan for tackling improvement. Upgrading skills was to be their individual responsibility, while teamwork and team culture would be his.  He consulted the team about their vision; what they wanted from the season and what they expected to achieve.

    Lesson: Involving the team in their own goal setting and making a concrete plan of action brings results. The best coaches know that setting achievable yet challenging goals motivates people.

    1. Set expectations and parameters

    Adam emailed each team member, outlining what was expected of them and what he would do for the team. This included attending every training session, showing total respect for teammates,  and encouraging team members who made mistakes or struggled with new skills. In turn he committed to 100% positive effort and the intention to win every game.

    Lesson:  Setting clear expectations for everybody in the team – including the coach – builds a respectful culture in which everybody is expected to do their best and support one another in an atmosphere of civility. The best coaches hold their team to high standards of personal conduct as well as professional skill.

    1. Advocate for the team

    The team’s culture of non-performance meant they were under-resourced and rather ignored by the club. Adam’s mission was to get the team the resources it needed to succeed, and he pressured the club to provide new training balls, bibs and cones. This motivated the team and they soon began to win games and catch the attention of the club’s hierarchy. A coach needs to ‘go in to bat’ for the team and get them the resources they need, as well as to be supported by the organisation, to be truly effective.

    Lesson: Whether it is better equipment, more time to complete a project or recruiting a star performer, a good coach tries their utmost to get the team what it needs. Their commitment to advocating on behalf of the team shows the team they are valued as well as providing them with resources  to maximise their chances of success.

    5. Learn from setbacks and failures

    When the team started winning, they were surprised by their success. They won a game, but then had a bad loss, crumbling under pressure. Adam reassured them that this did not confirm their fear that they were a poor team after all. He admitted that he had formed a false sense of their mastery after the previous week’s win, and thought that winning would be easy this time too. He asked the team why they thought they had lost, and how they felt about it, and together they recommitted to a slightly different training routine, moving players to different positions, and working harder at skills. They aimed for improvement, not perfection.

    Lesson: Progress is not always linear and there are bound to be stumbling blocks. Confronting these situations, learning from them and adjusting plans when they are not working makes for a better result. A great coach leads the team through setbacks and is not afraid to talk about the negative aspects of performance as well as the positive.

    1. Review performance and celebrate success

    At the end of each game, the team has a quick chat about what went well and what went badly, but Adam is aware that they would rather get home than talk about the game at length. He plans a longer, more formal feedback session for the next training time, where they can talk honestly among themselves – and when tempers have died down if necessary. He stresses that by this time he has had time to reflect on the game, which is crucial in setting the tone for a review. The players contribute their ideas, the team discusses them, and the coach acts on the good ones. He sets the rules for these discussions: no criticism of anybody in front of others; talk about the team, not individuals.

    In this team, success is not celebrated by singling out individual players for medals and commendations. The biggest celebrations are reserved for when a player who has never scored a goal before gets one, rather than for when the star player scores another one. Adam’s proudest achievement is that a player who has never scored in many years of playing kicked the winning goal last week.

    Lesson: Success belongs to everybody, and so does disappointment. The best coaches do not praise or criticise reactively. They reflect and plan before honest discussions about—–

    The parallels between coaching a sports team and a business team are clear – that’s why the sporting metaphors fit so well. Lead your team to success by being the coach who uses a consultative leadership style, plans before acting, and shows flexibility and a willingness to take considered risks. Then watch your ‘weakest performer’ score the next winning goal.


  6. Leadership tips for new managers

    June 14, 2016 by Alison Hill

    The day you’ve planned and worked for has arrived: you’ve been promoted to manager. You know that your leadership skills are going to be needed in the coming weeks and months, but what exactly are they?

    Perhaps you’re suffering from ‘impostor syndrome’ ­– the feeling that you aren’t really up to a leadership role, and that sooner or later this will become obvious. How do you develop leadership skills and feel confident in your ability to lead? Here’s our guide to shaping your leadership style in the first days, weeks and months in a new leadership position.

    Be clear on your priorities. Start by focusing on just three things, and get those done with the help of your team. What are you trying to achieve? How will you measure success – both your own and those of your team members? Let your manager, your team and any other stakeholders know what you are prioritising in these first weeks and months, so that they understand your goals. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help.

    Being clear about your purpose and committing to your team and yourself is what leadership is about. Knowing what you want and who you are is the basis of being a good leader.

    Listen and learn. An associate told me about a new manager who came on board from another organisation and immediately began changing every process in the team – even those that worked well. My friend had worked in the team for years and was a technical expert, but the new manager believed she had all the answers. If she had listened to her new team, and to the higher-ups, she would have won their respect and trust; instead she fragmented the team and was moved on within six months.

    Spending time with your team and getting to know them on a personal level will mean you can inspire each person to do their best in the way that works for them. Motivation is different for everyone. Admitting your mistakes, learning them and discussing them with the team is a way of being authentic. Being authentic means you build trust and cooperation in your team.

    Create a support network. Seek out a more experienced leader who can mentor you. This will not only improve your leadership skills, but it will also show you how to map your road to success in the organisation. An informal network of others in leadership positions can act as a sounding board and provide support if times get tough. A weekly coffee or eating lunch together is a good way to put that network in place.

    Better still, you can hire a coach or sign up for a leadership training course. Challenge Consulting’s research has shown that leadership training increases median revenue by $31,000 per employee and productivity by 17-21%. Formal learning can help to address your concerns and questions in a systematic way, and the leadership journey need not be a lonely one.

    Develop your communication skills. This includes working on your listening skills. Stephen R. Covey wrote that, ‘Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.’ When employees feel unheard they lose motivation, so make sure you don’t give the impression you know it all or are not interested in what your colleagues have to say.  Keep your audience in mind when you speak; simplify jargon and complex technical information when speaking to people whose job does not include working with those things.

    Practice giving a presentation to boost your confidence, and think about joining an organisation such as Toastmasters or sign up for a class in writing or speaking for business.

    Praise and acknowledge others. Do it immediately and your team will appreciate your feedback even more. Feedback is highly motivating and team members will appreciate immediate thanks, praise and even constructive criticism.  Learning to deliver constructive criticism is an art. You can read more about providing actionable feedback in our article about common feedback mistakes here.

    Take time out to celebrate employees’ good performance and meeting the team or organisation’s goals. When employees feel acknowledged and empowered to do their best, productivity soars. An environment in which people want to work can be more motivating than money, and retaining good people is the hallmark of a good leader.

    As small business coach Barry Moltz put it, ‘Bosses have jobs and leaders build companies’. So learn to be a leader.

     Take me back to ENews



SUBSCRIBE Join Our Mail List
Border Background