The Leadership Machine – Developing Skills for Your Leaders and Executives

In their book, The Leadership Machine (Architecture to Develop Leaders For Any Future), Michael W. Lombard and Robert W. Eichinger discuss ways to build leaders and develop leadership competencies (skills) in any company. Although the book is a bit too full of consulting speak, it does contain useful ideas on what makes good executives and leaders. And it provides insights and ideas on how to develop specific leadership skills that may be lacking in your executives.

Why Leadership?

  • There is a leadership supply problem. There are not enough good managers and leaders in almost every company.
    • The general rule of thumb is that top performers outperform the average by 40 – 50%.
    • True high potentials will add value because they have fewer preconceived notions of how things work. They bring a broader perspective, and will listen carefully until they find the essence.
    • Developed people and leaders are your most important assets.
  • The unfortunate reality
    • Average companies have a tremendous ability to rationalize the existence of lots of low and OK performers. By doing nothing, these companies create a cascade that ends in poor business results, impoverished employee and leader development, and good people leaving.
    • High potentials and budding stars don’t have enough good bosses to work for.
    • Average bosses block positions, and inevitably, poor to OK performers end up surrounded by performers just like them.

The Basics of the Leadership Machine

  • Key drivers of the Leadership Machine
    • Use succession planning to develop people to meet future demands
    • Make the right calls on who gets the jobs
    • Develop the competencies (abilities and skill sets) of current and potential executives and leaders.
  • Systems in place required to make leadership development work
    • Targets are set so you know who and what you are measuring
    • Prevent the derailment of your people
    • Constructive feedback loops
    • Coaching processes that work
    • Thought is given as to designing work that is both a learning and a performance challenge
  • The courage required to make leadership development work
    • Who gets the job?
      • The right person or a safe fill?
    • People often hoard talent, make irrational arguments about whom to promote, or won’t make tough calls on stagnant performers.

Leadership Competencies (Skill Sets)

  • Key leadership competencies
    • Character / Integrity / Ethics
    • Communication skills
    • Customer focus
    • Functional / Technical skills
    • Innovation
    • Intelligence
    • Managing People
    • Results Orientation
    • Teamwork
  • Common competencies for superior performers
    • Decision quality
    • Learning on the fly
    • Functional / Technical skills
    • Drive for Results
    • Listening
    • Personal Learning
    • Comfort around Higher Management
    • Process Management
  • Where most leaders are weak (lacking competency)
    • Strategic agility
    • Dealing with ambiguity
    • Creativity
    • Planning
    • Innovation management
    • Building effective teams
    • Motivating others
    • Managing vision and purpose
    • Personal learning
    • Developing others (67th out of 67 competencies)
  • What gets executives fired?
    • Low in comfort around higher management
    • Low in listening
    • Low in peer relationships
    • High in defensiveness
    • High in political missteps
    • Low in ethics and values
    • Low in drive for results
    • Low in customer focus
    • Low in functional / technical skills
    • Low in good administrator
    • Low in ability to staff effectively
    • Low in strategic thought
  • The most difficult competencies to master include those skills requiring the ability to tolerate and manage one’s own negative emotions and beliefs as well as the emotions and beliefs of others.

Learning Agility

  • The key (and differentiating) skill is learning agility or learning to learn. If you are preparing for an uncertain future knowing only that it will be different than it is now, bet on the learning agile to get you there.
  • What do learners look like?
    • They are willing to feel and look stupid
    • They are keen observers of themselves, others, and situations
    • They have more ways to handle situations
    • They are comparers
    • They make sense through rules of thumb
    • They are likely to have a plan and measures of success and failure
      • They have the humility to report blunders and learn from them.
      • They often will debrief after any success to uncover the principles that drove the success.
  • “A major characteristic of successful people at any level and at any age is seeing oneself as a learner, actively making sense of work and personal experiences, and striving to get better.”

Developing Competencies

  • Do the new behavior consistently
    • It often takes 10 – 15 positive instances of a behavior before people begin to question the previous negative behavior.
  • Focus on improving just a few competencies at a time
    • In practice, a person should work on three things at once, not forty.

In the end, no one executive or leader will have all the right tools. Thus, pick the executive that comes closest to having the key skills or develop an executive team with complementary skills.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
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