McKinsey’s War For Talent study, first carried out in 1997, emphasized the importance of instilling a deep commitment to talent through the organization, starting at the top and cascading through the ranks. Their follow-on work in 2008, Making Talent A Strategic Priority, emphasizes the importance of getting this “soft side" right; otherwise, managers would succumb easily to short-term pressures and fail to embed a talent strategy in the overall strategy of the business. According to the latter study, “What’s needed is a deep-rooted conviction, among business unit heads and line leaders, that people really matter—that leaders must develop the capabilities of employees, nurture their careers, and manage the performance of individuals and teams." Simply put, leaders are responsible for developing the talent in their organizations.

To discover how Indian leaders drive their organizations to high performance, the Harvard Business Review commissioned a research team in 2010 to interview senior executives at 98 of the largest India-based companies. The resulting article, “Leadership Lessons from India", used the example of Wipro to illustrate how Indian leaders think about coaching their reporting members. There is a review of the top 300 leaders in the company by its chairman, Azim Premji, in a process that extends over five days. The company then draws up a personalized development plan for each candidate that includes formalized managerial coaching, training, and rotational assignments. The process creates a pool of candidates to fill anticipated vacancies.

Google’s analytics team examined data from thousands of employee surveys and performance feedback forms to understand which behaviours are characteristic of the most effective managers—coaching topped the list. Gallup’s research yielded similar results. Clearly, one of the key ingredients to the recipe for employee development is on-the-job managerial coaching.

So how do the best leaders build their next line of command? They go beyond expensive learning and development programmes and invest time in building a coaching culture in their organizations.

According to leadership gurus James Kouzes and Barry Posner, exemplary leaders demonstrate five key traits that set them apart. They model the way forward, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart. Here’s how they do it:

They start by building a culture of trust and transparency where policies and processes help, not hinder, progress.

■ They find time for regular non-directive conversations with team members. helping them find their own answers, not telling them how it’s done. They also ensure their team leaders cascade that down the management pyramid.

■ They let go of the traditional notions of strategy and control. They can provide direction and guidance but let their team members make mistakes and learn from them.

■ They find that right balance between collaborating and being directive, between managing and guiding, between advising and aiding in discovery, and between being the expert who knows it all and the manager who is also an equal and a partner.

■ They present different perspectives, provide insights, and encourage employees to share ideas in a non-competitive environment.

■ And, of course, they challenge constructively. They provide constant encouragement, but, at the same time, challenge employees to do more, because everyone is capable of achieving more.

■ They also try and replace feedback with “feedforward". They provide suggestions to change behaviour in the future without dwelling too much on past mistakes. Acknowledging and discussing past missteps is important but dwelling on them is not.

Recent Gartner research looked at 7,300 employees and managers across industries to study the connection between development approaches and employee performance. It revealed that employees working under the direction of “connector managers" are three times as likely as others to be high performers. Connector managers give targeted coaching and feedback in their areas of expertise and connect employees with others on their team or within the organization, recognizing that some skills are best taught by people other than themselves. They also encourage teams to have mentors inside and outside the workplace.

Ruchira Chaudhary is an independent strategy professional, an executive coach and adjunct faculty. She divides her time between Singapore and India.

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