Paul Raggio | Are You Developing Leaders?

Paul Raggio

The film won five Academy Awards and was the second highest-grossing film in 2000. Just like many of you, I’ve watched “Gladiator” several times and marvel at the cinematography and acting by Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix. Ever the contrast in leadership styles between Crowe’s character, Maximus, and Phoenix’s character, Emperor Commodus.  

Maximus is the enslaved general, charismatic, inspirational, determined, and knows the names of every one of his subordinates and truly cares for them. Conversely, Commodus is a power-hungry emperor who rules by fear and feels threatened by Maximus’ emotional grip on his people. Taught how to lead, Maximus earned the respect of his men and never asked his soldiers to do something he wouldn’t. On the other hand, Commodus was born into his emperorship and demanded others to sacrifice for his gain, caring little about the welfare of his subjects. You can’t help but want to mirror Maximus’ leadership and reject Commodus’. 

How do you develop leaders, not managers, but leaders — people who envision a path forward and inspire others to follow, even under the direst of circumstances? I’ve often heard the trope leaders are born and not made. Nothing is further from the truth. Try to convince all the men and women who serve in our armed forces that leaders are born and not made. They’ll laugh you out of boot camp, where thousands of young men and women transform into budding leaders upon their graduation. No, people can learn to be leaders, given the investment of resources and knowledge and an aspiring Maximus. 

Troubling, though, rarely is this investment made. I’ve come across several companies that promote and expect the new manager to be a leader. The assumption is that they will excel as leaders because they are hard workers, outperform others and have magnetic personalities. I’ve heard countless times from business owners, CEOs and other executives how surprised they were that one of their promoted team members was struggling and, in some cases, failing as a leader! When I hear this, I ask what they are doing to develop leaders in their organization. Then, there is silence. 

Fortune 500 companies understand the importance of investing in leadership development. They send their rising stars to the finest national and international leadership development institutions and create in-house programs that train their future leaders on the skills required to succeed. However, the mid- and lower-tier companies that could benefit most from a formalized leadership program don’t invest, and they really should. 

If you don’t have a leadership training development program in your company, consider investing in one. Many resources are available, starting with engaging a leadership coach for you and your leadership team. Just as any coach brings the very best out of professional sports athletes, reputable and experienced leadership coaches will challenge you to be the very best leader you’re capable of being in the company.  

Placing emphasis on and investing in developing leadership skills will have a remarkable impact on your company’s productivity. Make leadership development a topic to discuss at your employee performance reviews and integrate it into your employee development program. Creativity, effort, performance, focus, collaboration, responsiveness and communication are all behaviors and activities you can expect to improve by making this investment. Satiate your employees’ desires to grow by delineating a leadership skills developmental pathway, giving them confidence and certainty they will succeed once the opportunity arises. 

Suppose you’re looking to shape your company’s organizational culture to one that thrives and drives growth — a culture that readily responds to day-to-day and, on occasion, ominous business challenges, creates team loyalty, enhances horizontal and vertical communication. Then invest in a leadership development program. 

Leadership skills are oriented on emotionally connecting team members and encouraging them to win in any game, including business. Maximus was a fictional character in “Gladiator,” leading the other enslaved gladiators subjugated to the emperor and his games. Crowe’s depiction of him presented a model in leadership, especially when compared to his adversary, Commodus. Grow multiple Maximuses in your company. Invest in leadership development. Your organizational culture will thrive, and your company will win in the game of business. This is how you lead, think, plan and act. Now, let’s get after it.  

Retired Col. Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions. Paul and Lisa mentor and coach business owners on leadership and management principles in achieving and sustaining their business growth and profitability goals. He can be reached at [email protected].   

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