Developing Leaders Starts with Building an Identity within Those You Promote

This is the thing companies should focus on before leadership development


Garrett Mintz , Sun 31 July 2022
The great resignation has impacted companies in many ways, and this has helped employees gain more leverage. Companies gave out inflated titles and higher salaries to lure workers, and organizations became less concerned about hiring people with frequent job changes in recent years. 

More recently, however, rising inflation is causing fear of an imminent recession, and that volatility ends up diminishing the incentives for job-hopping. This may signal the beginning of a new post-great resignation era, but its consequences will continue to ripple out in the coming years. The companies that can successfully maneuver through this transition will be far better off than the companies that don’t.

The great resignation provided many companies with an opportunity for growth in the years to come, but this opportunity requires these companies to grapple with the effects of high managerial turnover. Many 1st or 2nd-year employees have had three or four different managers since starting work, and frequent manager turnover is a major drag on building an engaging and productive company culture. 

Some of these new managers are newly promoted novice managers from within the organization that must learn on the job. Others are highly experienced outside hires that must learn the company culture with a new team. And some new managers were outside-hires without any experience managing and had to learn how to manage a team while learning the company culture as well. These all can cause friction at the company, but even a perfect hire requires more than a few months to establish a resilient team culture that can handle turnover. 

Because of the transient nature of the great resignation, employees have become used to expecting to be working under a new manager every six months. This lack of consistent leadership has eroded the trust and sense of identity professionals have with their company and companies need to start addressing this now because this erosion will have lingering ramifications for years to come. 

Why?

Because professionals that identify with their organization are what make an organization profitable. I am a sports fan, so I will create a football analogy. Most general managers in the National Football League (NFL) prefer to build the core structure of their team through the NFL draft. Rookies have relatively cost-effective contracts and are locked into those contracts for 4-5 years. Once the rookie contract ends, NFL teams determine if players are worth the massive salaries that come with paying a veteran player. Considering that the NFL has a salary cap, there is a finite amount of money that can be spent on each player, so teams that win are the ones that can get the most ROI from their players and their contracts. 

Employees that identify with their company are like football players on their rookie contracts. They are creating a surplus for the team because they are providing more value than they are receiving. I am not suggesting that companies underpay their employees. But I am saying that employees that identify with the company in which they are working will go the extra mile to make sure their work is done right.

When those employees that identify with the company become leaders, this directly benefits the company. This increases their long-term value, and this effect is multiplied as their impact propagates across multiple direct reports. 

Granted, not all employees that identify with the company are great leaders – there is typically training that is necessary for these new managers to become effective leaders. 

But my argument is that leaders that don’t identify with their company will never go the extra mile to make sure that things are done right. They will follow core leadership tenets (if they are trained), clock in, and clock out. Going the extra mile just isn’t worth it for them because whether the company succeeds or fails isn’t a major factor to them. Under normal circumstances, this doesn’t usually matter. But sometimes a make-or-break moment arises, and team success, project success, or even company success will be determined by how one leader responds to a new situation.

How can you tell if your employees have formulated an identity within your company?

One early indicator is in the words people use to refer to the company, especially around people outside the company. If they refer to the company as “they” or “them” or “it” instead of “us” or “we”, that is typically an indicator that they don’t strongly identify with the company.

Another indicator comes from responding to bad news. If bad news comes out about the company or if the company is going through a particularly stressful time, how leadership responds will be a critical factor for employees. Are your leaders going to defend the company and work through it? Or are they going to deny responsibility and make excuses?

Employees that identify with their company will go far to defend their company and ensure its success. And when things are stressful, they will stay late, take on extra tasks, and do what is necessary to make the team succeed.

Why?

Because they identify the company’s success with their success. When the company succeeds, these employees feel a sense of pride in the company. When the company makes a mistake, they feel it and want to be better.

Therefore, companies that can build that sense of identity faster than others are the ones that will succeed.

Before spending any money on leadership training and developing managers into effective coaches, mentors, and leaders, companies first need to focus on making sure that all their managers identify with the company and know how to inspire that same mindset in their direct reports.

The best way to increase the number of employees that identify with the company is by increasing engagement.

Engagement is the combination of:

·        The amount of energy employees receive from doing the work
·        The connection employees feel to the mission of the company
·        The camaraderie employees have with fellow employees
·        How much the work complements their strengths

Your plan for increasing the amount of employees that identify with the business should start with increasing all four categories of engagement. 

Therefore, if you are a business owner or leader, the questions you should be asking yourself are:

·         What are we doing to ensure that employees are getting into flow when they do their work? Are we scheduling meetings at inconvenient times for them? Are we creating bottlenecks for them from doing the work that they get energy from doing? What are we doing to help our employees manage their time? How can we help them spend more time on tasks that give them energy and optimize the time for the work that detracts from it?
·         What are we doing to connect the mission of the company to their own personal mission and goals in life? Are we tactlessly shoving the corporate mission down their throats? Or is our mission an uninspired afterthought that’s rarely shared? Are we adequately meeting the mission on our end or is there a blind spot between leadership and the rest of the company?
·         Are we creating an environment in which employees can have a good time together on non-work tasks? – Most companies are pretty good at this but this is only ¼ of the equation for boosting engagement.
·         What are we doing to identify our employees’ strengths and how are we putting them in a position to succeed? Are we only promoting strong individual contributors to management roles, even though the skills set to be successful as a manager is different than the individual role they were performing?

Companies that can set a plan to boost engagement faster than other companies will become an ideal destination for prospective employees that want to work for a company in which their employees will work hard for them because they identify with the company. 


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