Leadership, management and learning

On the weekend I was reading a book ‘Developing Leaders’ by Professor John Adair (1988). It’s a short book that has many proven concepts for developing leaders and managers including this rather good quotation by TS Lin, former Chairman of Tatung one of Taiwan’s leading electronics manufacturers supplying products to the world.

“There is an English proverb that says there are no bad students, only bad teachers. I believe it also applies to a company. There are no bad employees, only bad managers.”

As soon as I reflected on this simple quotation I had flashbacks to times when the actions or behaviours of managers I have known could be attributed to TS Lin’s comment. Too often we put people into positions of leadership where they are poorly prepared to lead and manage others in a business. ‘Being thrown in the deep end’ is often seen as a badge of honour (and sometimes a learning opportunity), where a new or experience manager either ‘sinks or swims’. On reflection it seems odd that so many businesses take this approach to developing leaders when the cost of failure can be high for all the people directly involved as well as for the business. Of course it is possible that failure may not be apparent for some time after the poor decision or actual communication.

Most business owners recognise that their organisation is a reflection of the people that work in it and most employees aim to represent the best interest of shareholders. Most employees also recognise that better businesses provide opportunities for learning and growth that will assist build their technical as well as management/leadership competence. If you believe this is true, what then prevents most companies from providing ongoing team and individual learning programs that both fulfil the individual and improve the business?

I offer no plausible excuse except to suggest that cost, time, what to train, who to train, how to train and indifference to ongoing learning, all conspire to stop the development of meaningful programs.

A new year starts in just a few weeks and like every milestone in life it provides an opportunity to rethink business and individual priorities. I suggest that developing your staff or seeking opportunities for personal development should be factored into your plans for 2016.

In Australia today you can be sure that two words; innovation and productivity, will continue to dominate media reporting in 2016. But both words are completely meaningless unless they are underpinned by continual learning that focuses on building people skills. This applies equally to whether you are part of a high-tech start-up, an established SME or a successful large enterprise. Real productivity improvements as well as innovations in product, process or technology, are only delivered by competent knowledge workers, not extra government funding or media reports.

I offer one more useful quotation on leadership from Adair’s book;

“Leadership is about getting extraordinary performance out of ordinary people.” Sir John Harvey-Jones

I trust that 2016 be a year of learning for you and your business.


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