I recently shared time with a mid-level leader who was managing challenges associated with delivering a leadership development program that consisted of several tiers of education. To her it felt as if she was doing everything right, but there was some reason the program was not being adopted by a more widespread portion of the company. The courses were engaging and immersive and allowed for leaders to experience growth through success and failure in a safe environment. The curriculum was in depth, and the faculty and participants were hand selected. Yet after 2 years, the program was only embraced by 2 of 7 departments.
We sat down and talked about the leader development structure in the company. It had many great components in addition to well thought out education. There was mentoring from leaders at the level above the program attendees, peer feedback and reflections, progressive responsibility growth, as well as momentum at the front line through second echelon of leadership in the departments it impacted.
When I asked her about leader buy-in and devotion above the team level, we discovered that senior leaders:
never visited the courses,
were not providing feedback on the curriculum, and
were just not present.
We know through numerous interactions with leaders that being both genuine and present are keys in moving any organization forward. In this instance, the courses were not widely known since leaders could not cross pollenate and endorse what they had not seen. This resulted in no overarching endorsement of the leader development strategy she had put forth.
Without organizational devotion championed by senior leaders, even programs that develop leaders are destined to limp along until commitment levels change or the program dies.
In this case, we discussed a strategy that would incorporate the senior leaders through more aggressive communications and interactions initiated from the ground up. This will build program understanding, generate buy in and yield momentum through leader presence in upcoming weeks. We prescribed a marketing strategy for the course and suggested senior leader visits at key times to see the impact of the program. Engaging senior leaders in speaking roles for the classes would also provide them with an opportunity to discuss senior leader perspectives, and, if used correctly, would focus on outcomes of the course that align with leadership goals of the company.
I walked away from that interaction reminded that building leader development processes must involve a strategy that has much more depth than just creating leader development courses.
If you are embarking, or overhauling, your leader development processes, I recommend having a few key ingredients in place:
1. A problem set you are solving with respect to leader education and/or gaps in leadership in your organization
2. A development pipeline that includes:
a. Assessment and selection of potential leaders based on input from leaders and peers
b. Education with curriculum aligned with the objectives of the program (what we are really getting at here is best learning practices in increments of growth and development)
c. Leadership assignments which provide progressive growth and development
d. Active mentors and coaches at all levels
e. Peer and leader feedback systems that include micro through macro feedback
3. Well articulated attributes and competencies expected of leaders
4. Leader buy in and dedication at all levels
5. A system that iterates and evolves as the needs of the company evolves
There are many challenges in the space of developing future generations of leaders who will take your organization to achieve goals never before imagined, but it takes leaders to make leaders.
"Leadership is the art of influencing people in such a way as to gain their willing desire to accomplish the mission. Leaders are followed because their actions impact the environment in which they operate and people see them as a catalyst to achieve the desired outcome.”