Where were you on January 28, 1986?
I was a 4th grader at Vaughn Road Elementary School in Montgomery, AL, watching the space shuttle Challenger launch with school teacher Christa McAuliffe on board.
The Challenger mission was a big deal in schools across America. Educators embraced the shuttle program because it fused education and adventure.
On launch days, we stopped our work and watched, with more than a few of us wondering if maybe we’d up in space someday as astronauts. And when Ms. McAuliffe became part of the mission, the launch became must-see television in classrooms, including mine.
Then the Challenger exploded, and something cracked inside of us. Death and devastation never felt so close as it did to me that morning. I remember feeling sad and scared - space exploration went from being the stuff of wildest dreams to part of a dangerous world that I thought only existed in Freddy Kruger movies.
We now know that one of the most devastating moments in U.S. history took place because of mistakes made about O-Rings, a small part of the solid booster rockets used to launch the space shuttle into orbit.
Mistakes Break Things...And People
Thirty years later, the legacy of that moment for me is the reminder that most of the damage we do as leaders is the result of mistakes.
Take the struggle that most organizations have when it comes to developing leaders. Helping the men and women in your business maximize their potential as leaders is critically important to both the long-term and short-term success of the organization.
But few companies put together a leadership development system, and even fewer companies succeed with the system that they implement.
In my work with both for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations, three mistakes show up consistently in developing leaders.
1. No Definition Of Leadership
What is leadership? Am I a leader?
Until an organization has a clear and concise definition of leadership, most people will not think of themselves as leaders. And when men and women do not see themselves as leaders, they won’t go the extra mile in making your company a great place to work or in contributing to your bottom line.
Start with something simple. Talk about leadership as influence, something ordinary that anyone can do if they’re willing to take initiative on behalf of others.
2. No Framework For Developing Leaders
How do you develop leaders?
Most organizations try to develop leaders. But few get the results they want because their plan is a set of disconnected ideas and resources.
When you piece together a patchwork approach to developing leaders, the results look like a three-year-old who finds a pair of scissors and decides to give herself a haircut. It doesn’t take long to see what she is attempting to do, but what she ends up with bears little resemblance to what she had in mind when she started.
The alternative is a simple and sustainable framework - a system - that has the following components:
- A way to differentiate between multiple levels of leadership. Does your system work for both senior level leaders and entry-level leaders/volunteers?
- A process for recruiting, training and evaluating leaders. Does your system include reproducible steps that provide a consistent experience for everyone involved?
- A priority on training people when they transition into new roles. Does your system understand and prepare leaders for the challenges they face in their new role?
3. No Intention of Taking Action
When an organization talks about developing leaders but never takes the time to focus on taking an idea and turning it into reality, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Potential leaders tune out the noise of empty promises and vague rhetoric. Current leaders wonder why no one steps up to help out. Everyone is frustrated as your organization’s mission isn’t accomplished or your businesses profit margin doesn’t grow.
Do The Next Right Thing
Build a leadership development system for your organization.
Wait, There's More
This post was originally published in Leadership Weekly, a handpicked collection of leadership resources from across the internet.