Supercharging Leadership Development: Working with Sherpas

July 24, 2018

Supercharging Leadership Development: Working with Sherpas

This is part of a series of posts that provide lessons and techniques for readers to supercharge their leadership development programs and implement a reliable pipeline for their company’s future leadership. Last month we discussed developing a leadership development program that is compatible with your company’s culture and values, and is a deeply transformative leadership experience.

When designing your leadership development program, it is helpful to bring in experts to share their knowledge at multiple points along the way. Too often, companies adopt a “do-it-ourselves” approach to leadership development, either to lower costs, or out of arrogance, thinking, “No one from the outside can possibly understand our uniqueness.” Most such programs never achieve their full impact potential, and many eventually fail. While it may be tempting to design a leadership program entirely with internal resources and subject matter experts, the DIY approach is often more costly from a lost-opportunity standpoint. Such programs often lack contemporary leadership knowledge and outside best practices, and instead run the risk of perpetuating a “we know leadership best” or “not invented here” mentality.

The plain fact is that developing leaders isn’t a core competency for most organizations. Creating great products, delivering superior service, or running an efficient operation is what most organizations are about, not developing leaders. So working with leadership development practitioners and consultants, whose core competency is developing leaders, can amp up your program’s overall impact and effectiveness. To have a truly transformational impact on leaders, the most potent approach is to have internal resources jointly partnering with outside leadership experts.

External consultants and leadership practitioners whose core competency is designing leadership programs can be extremely useful because of the insights and experiences they can draw from across a variety of industries. This breadth of knowledge will help you find and import techniques and ideas that may be new and adoptable to your own industry. An outside leadership development professional can act as a sort of sherpa, helping you design a truly transformational experience. They are able to bring  design expertise that most internal HR and training managers simply don’t have, because leadership development is not their organization’s core competency. Drawing on outside expertise is akin to opening a window and getting a break from the recycled air of the “way things have always been done.”

Indeed, having a credible, knowledgeable outside partner is often a big part of getting both the attention and buy-in of your company’s leadership team. Since doing LD right means making a significant investment (as mentioned above), all of the key decision makers need to be on board and support the venture. Outside LD practitioners can also provide much of the program framework and content so that your internal managers and leaders don’t have to.

That said, HR professionals and training managers play an important role as well, as do internal experts. Their input is particularly important in the programming and planning stages, because they will help make sure the program is infused with a rich knowledge of what is important to your industry and your specific company. By marrying their in-depth knowledge of the company’s past and present with an external expert’s fresh take, you can develop a leadership program that is rooted in your company’s goals and cultural strengths but not limited by them. Individuals who have been with the company for some time and seen it grow and change are uniquely equipped with information about what initiatives are likely to succeed within the company culture and which aren’t. They also know what has been tried in the past, so they can help guide the LD experts brought in on where to focus the program, and what’s already been done.

The most impactful leadership programs are full of relevant and useful content that fits the organization, and actually develops and strengthens peoples’ leadership capabilities. That’s best achieved with a mixture of knowledge of the organization and its industry, along with outside and contemporary leadership best practices. Bringing the two sides together in your LD program maximizes the likelihood of it being one of the impactful ones. The key is developing a mutually respectful partner relationship whereby all parties are co-creating together with the best interest of the organization and its leaders in mind. If the outside LD practitioners are thought of as “vendors” who have to be “managed,” it will sabotage the process. At the same time, if the LD practitioners are patronizing or dismiss the leadership know-how of the organization’s experts, the program will also fail. Spending ample upfront time strengthening the relationship of the program design team will make for a stronger overall program when it launches—and stronger leaders after the program starts bearing fruit.

The Authors: 

Bill Treasurer is the Founder & Chief Encouragement Officer at Giant Leap Consulting, a courage-building company that exists to help people and organizations live more courageously, and the author of A Leadership Kick in the Ass. A former member of the U.S. High Diving Team, Treasurer is considered the originator of the new organizational development practice of courage-building. For over two decades, he has designed and delivered leadership and succession planning programs for experienced and emerging leaders for clients such as NASA, Accenture, CNN, Saks Fifth Avenue, Hugo Boss, UBS Bank, Walsh Construction, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.