​How to develop a leadership culture

10 tips for empowering your people to lead

Are you fostering an environment that cultivates and empowers leadership from your team or are you stifling it? When we asked CIOs throughout Australia and the US to identify the top 12 skills that their people needed to succeed as an IT professional and leadership was one of them.

And it did not matter if the team member was in a traditional leadership role or not. Obviously if someone was a vice president, leadership was a required skill, but even if someone was in a role we think of as not requiring leadership, such as a programmer, it will still viewed as necessary to improve interaction with others. The issue that changed was the level at which leadership as a skill was required.

If you are interested in moving your organisation up the ‘IT maturity curve’ and aspire to be an organisation of ‘innovative anticipators’, it is crucial to foster leadership.

Over the last few months I’ve been working with organisations and their IT leadership teams to help them move up the curve. It's apparent that as much as they want to, they haven't created a context or culture in which their people felt empowered or encouraged to do so.

Here are 10 tips for creating a culture that fosters leadership.

Ask 'why?'

To avoid a stagnant culture you want to ask this question and have your people do the same. Are you hearing conversations in your organisations that sound like, ‘that’s the way we do things here’, ‘that’s the policy’, or ‘why fix what’s not broken?' This is a sign that complacency has started to take root.

Encourage thinking and innovation

Do your people have opportunities to create and develop new solutions? Do you allow them time to come up with solutions that are completely different? Do you have a forum or a communication channel in place that allows new and innovative solutions to get put forward to the organisation for consideration? Or if I asked your people, would they say you are not interested in hearing them?

Don’t shoot the messenger

Often client complaints and problems are not escalated to managers inside an organisation as soon as they need to be because team members are concerned with the reaction that they will get when the message is delivered.

You want to recognise that complaints from customers are a good thing – they are an opportunity to resolve a problem. The client cared enough to let you know. Statistically only one in two unhappy customers will let you know. Appreciate the ones who do and appreciate the team members who alert you to issues that need attention from a higher level.

Link your vision to their ‘what’s in it for me?’

As the leader of your organisation you want to create a future that your people will be excited about and would like to be a part of. Once you have created that future, you want to be able to illustrate to them step by step how you will get there.

And finally you must have them see their WIIFM (what’s in it for me?). If they help the organisation achieve its goal, how does that help them achieve their own personal aims?

Show them they fit in the big picture

When we are focusing on daily tasks and putting out fires, we often lose sight of the big picture. Take the time to ensure that your people know how their role impacts the overall organisation.

A few years ago, I was training a team on ‘finance for non-finance people’ and one of the participants at the back of the room jumped out of his seat when we were reviewing how to read an income statement and said, ‘that expense line is me!' Until that moment, he never realised how he fit into and contributed to the overall organisation.

Share the impact they make

Don’t allow your people to lose sight of the impact that their work allows your organisation to make with customers. Share success stories that the organisation has helped make possible.

If your business is insurance, share stories about the families you helped, the lives you saved, the justice you served. If your business is banking, talk about how you helped a young couple purchase their first home and so on. Change the results from statistics to real people.

Foster cohesion

One of the biggest danger signs I hear in organisations is when team members start speaking in an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality in regards to management and the leadership team. They must know you are one team working towards a common goal and are in it together.

The key to this is effective and sufficient communication as to what is being done and the rationale and thinking behind it. Give your team a chance to understand the reason, so you can earn their buy-in!

Be available to your team

Do your people feel like you ‘have their back?’ Do they feel comfortable coming to you when they need support? You need to be available to them, to earn their loyalty to you.

Get in the trenches

There are well-known stories of Sam Walton (founder of Walmart) walking the stores, talking to customers and stocking shelves, or Richard Branson getting to work with the baggage handlers to load an aircraft.

Getting in the trenches fosters teamwork, respect, and ensures you don’t lose touch with some of the fundamentals of your business. When was the last time you rolled up your sleeves and got in there?

Show value and appreciation

The biggest complaint of employees is not feeling valued or appreciated. It takes less than 30 seconds to tell someone they are valued, appreciated, and makes a difference.

If you haven’t done so in a while, maybe today is the day you get in the trenches and let your people know the impact they are making, and how much they mean to you and the organisation.

Lou Markstrom is the co-author of Unleashing the Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together, published by Wiley as part of its CIO series. Lou is currently the Professional Development Specialist for DDLS.