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By Joseph P. Leverich, CPA

Bookstores are full of books on leadership.  Some have quirky titles like “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun,” while others are more serious.  However, few are actually written by successful business owners. Most owners and managers learn leadership skills through trial and error, essentially known as “leadership by fire,” a reference to the fiery furnaces of Hell!

Many company managers start from humble beginnings in companies with only a handful of employees.  With lots of hard work, investment and good luck, the business grows, expands and presents leadership opportunities.

Formalized training in leadership is rare.  You likely learned your leadership skills from experience, observation and jumping into jobs and positions with management responsibilities.

The challenge businesses face is how to effectively grow and develop leaders. Not all employees have the desire and skills to be promoted to supervisor, manager and then leader. Title, length of employment, education and experience alone does not make a leader.

The mystery of good leadership is being able to define it, and identify and teach the necessary skill set.  You cannot simply hope for future leaders.  An investment in time, money and energy is required. As a leader of a top company, you need to decide if it is simply too risky to wait and see which employees will grow into leaders.

Clearly defining effective leadership and its qualities and standards is challenging.  A colloquial phrase often heard is, “I will know it when I see it,” but that does not give future leaders much direction.

Schools in leadership training are a different phenomenon.  General Electric has had a corporate training center in Crotonville, New York since the mid-1950s, and the different military branches are highly recognized for their famous academies.  However, few businesses have the resources to build their own exclusive program, and yet, every business struggles to develop its management team to the highest level.

Studies look at top businesses to determine what differentiates leaders in an industry group and what they are doing to continue to build their success.  The results continually point to development of leadership skills at all levels.  A recent study of leading companies considered to be top leaders in their respective industries showed the following:

·         Revenue growth, innovation and talent management are the three major business challenges.

·         Foremost entities are investing in leadership development by supporting organizational change, building a mindset and culture of innovation and helping leaders implement strategies to communicate vision and values. Businesses must do more than adapt to changed business conditions.

·         Successful businesses are employing leadership development; coaching, mentoring, leader training, action learning and succession planning are seen as the most powerful tools for success.

·         The least effective practice is the traditional “top-down, follow long enough and you too will develop” method.  This method is unpredictable, expensive, and at the very least, survivors have gaps in their leadership ability.

·         Businesses succeed in development the more their business strategy is incorporated in day-to-day activities.

·         The CEO and executive team are most likely to contribute as mentors and give input about desired program impact to ensure the connection between leader development and the utilization in the business for desired results.

·         The most successful companies focus on individual development within a framework for the desired outcome. An overall plan to follow with specific training is needed to develop skills.

The most successful entities in this study recognized that they and their developing executives still face challenges connecting leadership training with business results.  They also found it to be critical to take the time to develop leadership plans.  These companies avoid wasting time and expense with no targeted outcome.  The days of hoping and wishing for success are long gone.

The leadership plan should be unique to the needs of the company.  Nonetheless, recognized tools that any company can use to their benefit include decision making, delegation and supervision, accountability for company initiatives, learning negation skills and development of personal skills.

The U.S. Navy, known for discipline and training, recognized that its senior officers and Admiral Candidates were not sufficiently prepared.  To address this issue, the Executive Learning Office was created.  The Navy, looking for the top one percent of roughly 3,000 Captains to be considered for promotion to Admiral, wants officers who are leaders.  This new training program has helped the Navy demonstrate superior leadership resulting in many national and international positions for its graduates.  Graduates are widely regarded as those who rise above their functional areas and act decisively on big-picture issues.

By creating a leadership plan, working on developing skills needed for your business and focusing on individual growth and development, you can grow your leaders for the continued future success of your business.

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch said, “If change is happening on the outside faster than on the inside, the end is in sight.”  Staying ahead in this business climate requires your foremost focus and attention.  It is now time to develop leaders in your company.

Joseph P. Leverich, CPA, is managing partner and President of the Leverich Group, a Salt Lake-based CPA and management consulting firm.  E-mail your comments and questions to or phone (801) 364-4949.


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