In January, the New York Times published an article suggesting that “this year’s flu season is now more intense than any since the 2009 swine flu,” a time when I recall waking up every day to worsening news regarding the epidemic for nearly three weeks. The article also described the alarming number of deaths associated with the flu over the last decade. While natural death is never a pleasurable experience, metaphorical death happens every day in organizations at the hands of leaders who fail to cultivate a work culture rich in providing feedback, creating opportunities for learning and development, and having a genuine understanding of the unique talents of the people they lead.

F = Feedback

In a previous article, I described a formula that can be used in any situation or setting to script a feedback conversation. However, a script alone does not mean the message is received as intended. Often, even the most prepared leader will fail at delivering a message if he or she lacks the confidence or authenticity necessary to delivery both desirable and undesirable news.

Feedback is the development tool that benefits both the leader and the employee. For the employee, feedback enables behaviors to be either redirected or reinforced in real time. The key here is consistency, timeliness and accurate information. It is also important for the leader to model the behaviors expected of their team. The development opportunity for the leader exists when they focus on the end result and the appropriate behavior for arriving there rather than on their personality or character. Too often, leaders procrastinate on providing feedback for fear of resentment or disengagement, or because they do not have the emotional intelligence to say what needs to be said. In this case, the leader has to be willing to admit where they fall short and work toward mastering that skills gap.

L = Learning and Development

An organization that thrives to provide exceptional service in the way it delivers products and services will always find challenges with maintaining the culture appropriate to accomplish this goal. Because markets change so frequently, the best way to ensure that an organizational culture is equipped to remain competitive is to provide ongoing learning and development opportunities.

While nearly every L&D practitioner understands level one and level two assessment when creating and launching training events, not everyone is able to truly measure training impact or prove a solid return on the training investment. For these reasons, leaders are encouraged to engage in L&D opportunities much sooner than later. Engagement, in this case, involves working with stakeholders to identify performance gaps that connect with a performance metric. It might also require the leader to single-handedly champion the L&D initiative until stakeholders see its value to the organization. Too often, employees disengage from what a leader might initially refer to as an important L&D opportunity because they witness or become aware of his or her dwindling interest.

U = Understanding the Unique Talents of Constituents

We live in a society where opportunities are endless and entrepreneurship is the new career advancement opportunity. The advancement of technology, coupled with the innovative talent often trapped within the walls of many organizations, compels employees with unique talents to advance their personal mission and vision by any means necessary. What makes this issue even more challenging is the lack of skills, attention and support that some organizational leaders exhibit when confronted with the opportunity to prepare their talent pipeline for new opportunities. These disparities make it easy for recruiters to bait talented individuals who once relied on their leaders to mentor or sponsor their next career opportunities.

Leaders who do take the time to assess the skills of their current and prospective team members outperform their counterparts. These individuals are intentionally focused on building teams that contribute to and understand the organization’s strategy while using their supreme talent(s) to execute. This approach requires the leader to be present, accessible and secure in his or her own talents.

Gone are the days when words were enough to validate one’s ability to lead effectively. Now, more than ever, actions speak much louder than words.

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