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Helen Green

Quest Leadership

Leadership Collaborator

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Learning to lead

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It is wonderful what great strides can be made when there is a resolute purpose behind them.  Winston Churchill

When we consider strategy it is tempting to think only about the broad sweep of the future, of the great strides which we are going to make and the wonderful markets which we are going to conquer.  But to do so is to stumble blindly into a future which can have little or no basis in actuality.  For unless we understand the present and then take active steps to lay down the groundwork, any attempt at visualising a future strategy will be doomed to fail.

Talking to a solicitor recently the gentleman commented that he really ought to start to think about succession planning as he was thinking of retiring in a few years.  Holding strong sway over his firm, he was used to dictating policy across the board from social media to the types of cases which the firm accepted.  His departure would leave the firm rudderless and yet in the decades in which he had been at the helm he had given no thought to training up those who were to follow or to plan a strategy for his departure. 

It’s a story which sadly is repeated over and over again across business sectors and almost irrespective of the size of the business involved.  Leaders who look to the future but who do little to create the future; leaders who are so bound up in figures and strategy and managing that they don’t take the steps which are needed to really drive the business forward.  And it is that single word managing that is important here.  Managers manage, leaders create.  Managers postulate about the future, leaders take the actions necessary to turn strategy into reality. 

There was some interesting research published recently in the journal Memory and Cognition.   The authors gave a group of participants a passage to read and learn with some simply being told to learn the passage and the rest being told that they would have to pass on the information to others.  Those who expected to have to teach the passage later were found to have a far greater level of recall compared to those who simply read the passage.  The authors concluded that “expecting to teach enhances learning and organization of knowledge.” 

What has this to do with strategy and leadership succession?  Quite simply, those who are genuine leaders, who model the way and then seek to enable and inspire do so with one eye permanently on creating the future.  This includes looking for future leaders at every level of the organisation and helping to train those leaders in the skills and knowledge which they will need.  And that simple act of training, of actively passing on knowledge and skills leads present day leaders to question and improve their own performance.  Simply by training others, the organisation benefits from enhanced leadership. 

Strategy is not just about grand plans or sound bites for the annual report; nor is it an excuse to impose metrics and targets on others.  True strategy is all about devising the conditions and parameters for growth and that includes taking active steps to train others to take up the baton and run with it in their turn. 

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Helen Green

Leadership Collaborator

Read more from Helen Green
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