One question from clients that makes me happy is “We want to invest in our employees through leadership development. What should we keep in mind as we put the program together?”
First, I tell them there are three characteristics that distinguish the best leadership development programs from the least effective ones—commitment, alignment, and accountability.
Commitment. Active, authentic support from all levels of the organization, especially senior management, creates meaningful and impactful programs. When leaders know that senior management endorses, supports, and believes in what they’re learning, the two-way loop of commitment is completed—senior management believes in me; I believe in the value of the development. Employees are quick to recognize window dressing training programs.
Alignment. The knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to be hired, promoted, and execute organization vision, strategies, and goals must be what’s taught. Assure direct relevancy between course content and how leadership is practiced within your organization. If not, why are you wasting everyone’s time?
Accountability. Employees have to know that their boss is watching for a learning transfer from development session to practical on-the-job application. Research from McKinsey shows that employers with the most successful leadership development program are four times more likely to require development program participants to apply what they’ve learned on the job.
Next, I tell them they have to be prepared to make three resources available to program attendees—time, role models, and accountability partners.
Time. Development programs take lots of forms: formal offsite sessions, classroom, workplace developmental assignments, coaching from inhouse or external experts, etc. Regardless of the method, allow attendees to be fully present. Don’t expect them to continue managing their jobs while taking in new skills.
Role models. Leadership skills are learnable, so connecting those in development programs with those who exemplify the best and brightest of your organization hones the attendee’s ability to think, understand, and do.
Accountability partners. In the best leadership development programs, the boss is always an accountability partner; and participants also partner up with someone who is going through the same program. Together, these people can reinforce learning, follow-up on learning transfer, and be a safe place to try on new skills.
Lastly, I tell clients to adopt three attitudes toward both their leadership development programs as well as those participating in them—look for potential not only past performance, leave room for individuality and curiosity, and give permission for people to learn from their failure.
Look for potential. How an employee thinks, feels, and acts—are they flexible, self-directed, open to change, able to think critically and make a quality decision, interact well with others, and the like—says more about their leadership future than many quantitative metrics.
Leave room for individuality and curiosity. A team of cookie-cutter leaders isn’t going to be successful in today’s fast-paced, inter-connected business environment. Leave plenty of room for meaningful diversity of thought, opinion, perspective, and experience.
Make room for failure. Learning from failure is the absolute best teacher. Give your leadership development program participants space to bot try out what they learn and have a do-over if things didn’t go well the first time.
What else would you add to this list?
Image credit before quote added: Pixabay