Every so often incredible leaders appear — people who unite whole populations to a common purpose. People like Alexander, Attila, Ataturk, Elizabeth, and Hitler.

You only have to unite IS, not all of Central Asia but the lesson is the same: When you lead, everything is multiplied. Lead well and you achieve great things. Lead poorly, abstain, or lead well but in the wrong direction, and things get ugly fast.

Leadership is the fifteenth and last episode in our series on creating an integrated IS plan. Planning for leadership may seem like a strange idea, but really, doesn’t expecting leadership to happen by accident seem even stranger?

You need a leadership plan — not to populate your leadership team with interchangeable clones, but to find that happy center where managers have latitude to lead according to their natural proclivities without fragmenting your organization into a collection of separate fiefdoms with no consistency of style or culture.

What are the key elements of your leadership plan?

  • Skills inventory management: There are particular skills you need in your organization and they change from year to year. Your plan should describe how you plan to balance training internal staff, contracting with outside experts and recruiting experienced practitioners to ensure your organization can apply sufficient skills to the jobs at hand.
  • Staff growth plan: Beyond the right skills, employees need depth, experience, judgment, perspective … professional growth … and the increasing levels of responsibility and influence that reflect and take advantage of it. This isn’t fuzzy stuff — it gets down to hard decisions, like, “We can’t promote Pauline because we don’t have anyone to take over maintenance of the payroll system.” And before you say something like, “That’s why they call it ‘work'”, remember: If you don’t give Pauline these opportunities, someone else will, and you still won’t have anyone to take over payroll maintenance.
  • Compensation and incentives plan: Depending how you count, the best programmers (for example) are between five and fifty times more productive than average ones. Most companies peg salary levels to “the marketplace” and pay the best no more than about three times the lowest entry-level salary. The disparity demoralizes your best people, but history has repeatedly shown that the marketplace must set prices rather than any intrinsic assessment of value. Once you assess performance, your tools for managing the tension between market and value are salary, spot bonuses, at-risk pay/annual bonuses, stock ownership, promotions, and non-financial incentives. Each has a role to play. Make sure every leader understands and uses all of them.
  • Culture plan: Culture is the behavior people exhibit in response to their environment. Most of their environment is other people’s behavior — it’s circular. Telling employees to change their response is pointless. The only lever you have is the behavior of the leadership team. Define the culture you want, in concrete behavioral and attitudinal terms, and figure out how the leadership team must act to foster the change.
  • Communication plan: Should all information flow through the chain of command? (No.) Should you regularly send broadcast e-mails to the whole organization? (Yes.) How often should you hold all-hands meetings? Staff meetings? How do you find out what’s really going on in your organization? Planning how you’re going to communicate with employees is important. Planning how you’re going to listen to them, so you can get unfiltered information, is vital. Creating the expectation that you’ll do so is most important of all.
  • Leadership training plan: Did you think wishing would make it so? In addition to formal training, schedule role-playing exercises to elucidate how leaders should handle difficult situations like giving bad news, giving good news (if it isn’t difficult, why are so many leaders really bad at it?), leading meetings, delegating … all the behaviors and attitudes for which you want to create a common understanding. Some people gripe about role-playing exercises. My own experience is that those who gripe the loudest think they’re good at leadership but aren’t.

Effective leadership means harmonizing all of these elements to consistently set direction and encourage the best performance from every employee. That takes planning, because it’s too complex to rely on improvisation.