This is the first in a series of posts that will provide lessons and techniques for readers to supercharge their leadership development programs and implement a reliable pipeline for their company’s future leadership.
Can you create a leader? Is leadership a quality that can be developed in anyone, or is it something innate that exists in certain individuals, waiting to be expressed, but missing from others? If leadership can, in fact, be developed, how do you develop it? As a practitioner of leadership development for the last 25 years, I hear these kinds of questions a lot.
Lots of companies spend piles of money trying to identify and develop leaders within their ranks. But those same companies often second-guess their efforts when they don’t see instantaneous results. Leadership development, however, takes a serious and sustained investment in time, resources, and yes, money. Unless a company is truly committed to making this investment, it will end up with half-measures that don’t achieve the company’s goals and end up frustrating aspiring leaders.
But I have seen firsthand, time and time again, that leadership development works—as long as you’re going about it the right way. Here are some tips for dramatically improving your organization’s ability to stock its leadership pipeline with homegrown talent.
Make it Transformative
How do I know that leadership development works? For over 15 years I’ve been working with the leaders of a national construction firm, where I’ve witnessed firsthand the growth in confidence and capability of the company’s management and leadership ranks as they’ve participated in long-term development programs I designed with the firm. I’ve worked with many awkward newbie managers as they struggled to transition from a strong self-performer to a leader of teams. Many of the rookie managers I began coaching 15 years ago are now VPs, setting the company’s strategy and direction.
The leadership programs in this company are successful because they are designed to be more than simply a few “edutaining” workshops. One program, for example, is an 18-month intensive with bi-monthly “Summits” which include significant engagement from the company’s top executives. It also includes a strong mentoring component, collaborative projects, one-on-one coaching, luminary guest speakers, presentations skills coaching, a 360-degree feedback survey, and other immersive activities that juice-up the program and often transform participants’ careers and lives. It’s not cheap, but the investment pays huge dividends in filling the leadership pipeline, deepening the company’s “bench” strength, and accelerating momentum toward the company’s strategic goals.
When companies make true and lasting commitments to developing their leaders, leaders get developed! At a recent conference of the construction firm I just described, one of the event coordinators came up to me and showed me the speaker agenda—about 90 percent of the speakers had been through the leadership program. The program has basically become a rite of passage for aspiring leaders.
The takeaway? If you want a leadership developmentprogram to work, you must lean into it and invest resources toward making it effective. Many companies want to do it on the cheap, or think of it foremost as a cost and not an investment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a conversation with an HR or training department head who inquires about my company’s leadership services and their first question is, “How much for a leadership program?” They don’t even tell me what’s driving the need for a leadership program, how many people are they looking to develop and in what timeframe, or what the outcomes they want to achieve are. I know right away that their company isn’t truly interested in developing their leaders; they want to conduct a cheap workshop and call it leadership development. Sorry, but if your company starts from a mindset of how-cheap-can-we-do-this, there’s no way a leadership program will be successful for you. Companies must invest in leadership programs the same way they would equipment, marketing materials, or office space; not just acquiring it, but making sure it’s working and being put to good use.