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Why leadership capacity is not the goal

4 min read


Growing leaders grow organizations! This is something I’ve talked about and written about for many years, but my emphasis has been almost exclusively on the “growing leaders” part of the phrase. In recent years, my passion for helping leaders has not waned, but I have new energy for helping leaders “grow organizations.”

If your focus, like mine, has been on helping individual leaders grow, congratulations! You may be perfectly positioned to take your organization to the next level. Personal leadership capacity is a prerequisite for growing organizations, but the strongest leaders alone cannot do what a strong organization can do. The collective force of scores, hundreds, even thousands of people working together can accomplish and sustain remarkable results.

Several years ago, I had the privilege to lead a team to explore what growing, vibrant, healthy organizations look like, and more importantly, what makes them so powerful. After a multi-year exploration and scores of conversations with leaders of amazing organizations, our team reached four primary conclusions.

High-performance organizations …

Bet on leadership. High-performance organizations make the strategic decision to invest — actually, it is more of a bet — on leaders and emerging leaders. It’s a bet because the return is uncertain. Think about men and women you have “bet on” in the past. Some of these bets have probably paid off big, while others may have been a complete bust. High-performance organizations continue to place thoughtful bets, weighing the odds along the way, because they know if they fail to prepare future leaders, they are preparing to fail. The organization with the most leaders wins!

Act as one. Alignment multiples impact. Have you ever been part of an organization traveling at high rates of speed with no clear direction? It is exhausting, frustrating and futile. High-performance organizations work diligently to prevent this. This takes different forms in different organizations, but the principle is the same: Everyone in a high-performance organization needs to know what’s important and why. Clarity at this basic level can transform an organization. And it is possible! A lack of clarity is a lack of leadership.

Win the heart. Does your organization care about your employees? Certainly you want them to be successful at work — how about successful in life? What do your employees dream about? Do you know? Are you helping them fulfill their dreams? When people believe an organization really cares about them, you have a shot at winning their heart. Combine extraordinary levels of care with ownership, accountability and meaningful work aligned with their personal strengths, and you’ve created a fully engaged worker. When this happens, you begin to see the untapped potential resident in every person. For every pair of hands you hire, you get a free brain, but the key to this potential resides in the heart. Engagement energizes effort.

Excel at execution. No organization can pretend to be a high-performance organization if they cannot execute consistently. Recently, a leader told me he was only concerned with execution. The word picture that immediately came to mind was the gymnast who decides she just wants to do the dismount. Of course, this is absurd. Where do the height, energy and momentum come from to execute the dismount and stick the landing? From the routine which precedes the dismount! The same principle is true in high-performance organizations: Execution is the dismount and it certainly matters. However, to bet on leadership, act as one, and win the heart greatly increases the chances of sticking the landing.

Like you, I am always looking for competitive advantage. What can we do to separate ourselves from our competitors? The answer is right in front of us. Our potential competitive advantage walks in and out our doors every day: our people.

We have entered an era in which not technology, capital or even innovation will create the advantage we desperately seek. People working together with a level of purpose, unity and engagement rarely seen is the next frontier. That’s why…

Growing leaders grow high-performance organizations!

Mark Miller is vice president for leadership development at Chick-fil-A and is well known as a business leader, best-selling author, and communicator. Over the years, he’s traveled extensively around the world, teaching for numerous international organizations. Visit his website and blog, follow him on Twitter, and learn more about how to create a high-performance organization.

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