Ways to Improve Leadership Development

December 10, 2020 by  

Your company needs effective leaders to not only survive during this crisis, but to thrive in the midst of new challenges. Leadership development was already struggling before this crisis with ineffective classroom experiences, theoretical discussions, and no real way to apply or track the desired leadership behaviors endorsed by the organization. And moving your content online is not proving any more effective than a traditional classroom.
You need a better solution than simply turning leadership training into a video course and using learning data to try and make the case for a return on the investment. You need to actually improve leadership behaviors that happen in the flow of work with real leadership analytics that identify gaps between your leaders, the execution of critical business strategy, and critical metrics of healthy motivation and engagement.

For years, leadership development programs failed because they relied on outdated practices, were poorly executed, and did not align with the need for business results. Training has been disconnected from the way work is done, deployed without business context, and has been mashed together with ad hoc curricula. In the end, they may provide leadership tips and approaches, but they fail to impact organizational goals. Worse yet, they typically do not provide a road map for execution — leaving it up to managers to figure out if and how they will apply the leadership theory.
If leadership development doesn’t improve an organization’s bottom line, it is categorically a failed business investment. Today’s investors in leadership development need an integrated approach that provides leadership training in the flow of work. Because leadership happens at every level of an organization, the most active place leadership happens is in the execution of strategy across the organization.

Consider these five principles to create an integrated, goal-aligned leadership development program.
1. One Common Language to Guide Leadership
A common leadership language across the organization is critical to the long-term success of leadership development. While context around execution and specific skill sets is important, the core leadership concepts at the executive level should be similar to the fundamentals of a manager or that of an individual leader. Why? Because leaders in the modern organization speak the same language and have the same mindset in any context of leadership. A common set of practices can leverage terms that are easily understood regardless of context or who is stepping in to lead even if it requires a different set of micro-skills based on the context you are leading in. A common leadership language will help guide the curriculum and create a consistent foundation. Having a common language that everyone understands helps all leadership across an organization get rowing in the same direction.

2. Develop Leaders at Every Level of Your Organization
When leadership development fails, it often does so because it focuses too narrowly on a small set of people such as department managers or upper executives. Often, there are key leaders in an organization without management titles. The reality is that leadership happens at every level of an organization; therefore, you need to train leaders at every level. Leadership development is not a one-size-fits-all event. While some practices are fundamental to great leadership, skills may vary depending on the amount of people you lead and the context of the role you lead them in. Effective leadership development programs have a common set of macro-leadership practices that complement subsets of micro-leadership skills adapted to the context in which your leaders lead. This approach to leadership development ensures that all leaders speak a common language and are held accountable to core leadership attributes, while being most effective while leading in an individual, managerial, team, or organizational context.

3. Develop Leaders in the Flow of Work
Similar to how leadership happens in a variety of contexts, leadership also happens in the moment-to-moment activities of day-to-day business. That means it requires a complex, integrated approach that adapts to context and skills needed in the moment. Every great leadership program is rooted in elevating performance, so why do we take leaders away from the moment-to-moment needs of performance to train them how to lead? Truth is, we can’t afford to now. Make sure your leadership development program develops leaders at every level through the execution of real work and business strategy.

4. Continually Build Complementary Leadership Skills                                                                                                                                                                          We often think about the soft skills that effective leaders should possess to complement core leadership competencies. Given the need for leaders to influence employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, and the retention of high-performing employees, we are asking our leaders to execute on a lot of initiatives while juggling their primary function of leading teams and driving results. A really large toolbox is a mandate for today’s leaders. Many learning experts believe we are living in a reskilling or upskilling revolution that is putting soft skills front and center. Considering the varied skills we need from leadership training such as goal-setting, listening, problem-solving, change management, or emotional intelligence we definitely need a layered approach that brings in soft skills development alongside the core competencies. Each of those micro-skills trainings should build upon core leadership skills.

5. Establish Leadership Analytics
Our collective expectations are higher for data, dashboards, and accompanying analytics that report our progress or problem areas. In our daily lives, we get sports analytics, social media analytics, or analytics on how much we have used our phones. In business, we want to evaluate the effectiveness of our investments and want to know if a solution is affecting the bottom line. Ideally, leadership analytics should align with imperatives such as attracting, engaging, and retaining top talent.
But because many organizations lack the expertise or bandwidth to explore analytics, they often lack an analytics strategy. Even when analytics are introduced, they claim “data-driven” approaches even though they fail to align with organizational goals. That is why leadership development, with a common language regardless of complexities, requires more than the typical engagement survey or qualitative data approach. The best leadership development data pinpoints and charts certain leadership behaviours, primarily through performance and collaboration software your organization is already using or should be using. Performance and leadership practices that begin with clear goals are focused on communicating, pivoting, and evaluating not just employee performance, but leadership practices in relation to those organizational goals.

Leaders Keep Organizations Competitive
Using a consistent, practical, and common framework built for any context of leadership within the organization, you can directly correlate your investment in leadership development to critical business indicators. Organizations that are thriving in 2020 are moving boldly into the future of leadership by investing in an integrated approach to leadership and talent development by supporting their people at every level and across every team.

If you adopt and follow the suggestions above your leadership development program will be consistent and effective to help your organization be successful and long lasting.

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