March 29, 2016

Leadership School: Growing the Next Generation of Leaders

With our massive vision, we're focused on building Contactually for the long term. Alongside building an awesome culture, we also realize that having great managers and executives is a critical component of our strategy.

Like many fast-growing companies, we were "surprised" when we came into the office one day and realized we now had a while tier of managers, beyond our VP-level executives. Some had been hired specifically for that role, many had received "battlefield promotions" as the needs of the company grew.

One of our core values is "always be learning and innovating" -- in line with that, we started a bi-weekly Leadership School, and have found it incredibly valuable. After hours, anyone who has any kind of managerial responsibility - from team leads up through founders, gathers together for an hour.

Through our experiences, I'll share some best practices for you to start your own leadership school.

How Contactually Grows Leaders...

Host it either in the morning before work, or after work
You want everyone focused on themselves for once, not their team.

Titles go away
This has to be a safe space, where people feel comfortable sharing and participating, regardless of title. I've intentionally given very personal anecdotes to make others feel comfortable sharing. The higher executive you are, the less you should talk.

Topics rotate
We rotate who leads the conversation -- they pick out the topic, find appropriate articles, and lead the conversation. And provide snacks, of course.

Better leaders, not a better company
We've noticed a tendency for conversations to veer towards "what the company should change" -- so we have to be mindful to gently bring it back to "How we can be better leaders?" We spend enough time in other forums navel-gazing at the company in general.

It doesn't have to have an action list
Being an extremely tactical company, we have an icky feeling if a meeting wraps up without clear action steps and ownership. But Leadership School is different -- we learn, we discuss, and usually walk away with "something to employ in the future" - not something that has to be added to a task list.

Topics are sent out in advance
Each topic has a couple of articles related to it that the topic leader sends out in advance. Luckily, there is no shortage of topics around leadership, and no shortage of articles. If you're stuck, just throw a dart at any article on Harvard Business Review! That leaves the time to have an open and honest conversation.

Address pertinent topics
As an executive, you should ensure that you're "plugging all the holes" in management's boat. Try and suggest topics that you see some or all of your leaders could improve on. For example, we heard a number of reports that some of our managers were not receptive to feedback, or were overly defensive when being critiqued. So we dedicated a couple of sessions to receiving feedback.

To get you started, here are some topics we've used in the past:

  • Celebrating Small Wins

  • Start With Why

  • Show How, Don't Tell What

  • Reviewing Amazon's Workplace

  • Giving Away Your Legos

  • Retaining Superstar Talent

  • Managing Unconscious Bias

  • Receiving Feedback

  • Emotional Intelligence