As TomorrowToday we have the privilege to both design and participate in Leadership Development Programmes (LDPs) throughout the world. We work internationally with some of fineness business schools and blue-chip multi-nationals in this arena. We have seen a great deal: some of it excellent, a lot of it very poor. It is an area of significant spend for the client and there is a real need to get a worthwhile return on investment on developing your leaders.
Based on our observations and participation, here are six things that you need to consider when it comes to designing or looking for a strategic partner in the development of your leaders:
# 1: Learning leadership is an ongoing process
Smart companies understand the need to invest in developing their people – and especially grooming their leaders. They find appropriate ways to do this and increasingly this means looking ‘outside the norm’ when it comes to leadership development. The learning contained within an LDP process needs to be well supported both prior to and following the formal programme. It is ultimately a ‘process’ and not a ‘programme’. Stop seeing it as a ‘programme’ and measure it’s effectiveness well after the formal learning has ended. The lack of support (or process) surrounding the LDP is responsible for what often amounts to a serious lack of tangible benefits to the company having made such a weighty investment. Attendance at an LDP is often regarded as an intrusion or unnecessary interruption to what really matters; it is often interrupted by issues back at the office; and often puts the participant on the back-foot given performance measures that don’t take into consideration the time and energy demanded by the LDP.
# 2: Learning is the learner’s responsibility
Ultimately, the responsibility to learn – to extract value, rests with the learner. Naturally any content needs to be relevant, thought provoking and delivered in such a way that people both enjoy and understand. It is the teacher’s responsibility to stimulate the learning experience, to create an environment conducive to learning, but the onus to learn, sits with the learner. The importance of this point is often overlooked or neglected with the result that participants ‘get away’ with blaming ‘poor’ teaching or relevance when really, it is they who have missed out. I have seen excellent resources (teachers) ejected from LDPs for no other reason than the participants didn’t ‘like them’. It might have been because they (the teachers) came across as too brash or too confident; too young or too old; not entertaining enough or too maverick. Learning is the learner’s responsibility. Always.
# 3: How we learn differs from person to person
Learning styles differ and development programmes need to incorporate a variety of methodologies and mediums to enhance the learning process. From reading to experiential; from formal to informal; from offline to online – there should be plenty on offer to both challenge and stimulate your learning in mediums that provide both variety and flexibility. The majority of current programmes generally lack imagination and play-it too safe for fear of poor ratings (that are normally done at the time of the module) or the fear of ‘upsetting’ the participants. More disruption is required if real learning is to take place.
# 4: Leadership is more than a title or position of authority
Leadership is a relational process. This is true of both leadership practice and in how one teaches leadership. You should have access to plenty of world-class content but more importantly, building a relationship that will provide a context for that content, can greatly enhance the learning experience. Too many of the current programmes are driven primarily by content and curriculum and whilst important, these aspects should be subject to a relational undertow. Learning ‘relationship’ is the leaders primary concern in a Connection Economy. Shaping and conditioning the organizational culture is the leader’s critical responsibility and as it has often been said, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast every time’.
# 5: Curiosity and questions are more important than certainty and answers
Any leadership development process should be designed to challenge and stimulate your thinking. If you emerge with deeper questions as a result of your process it will have done a good job. Thinking is the place where all intelligent action begins and the translation of this thinking into workable solutions and answers forms the follow-up to the formal learning. This will be your responsibility outside of the formal learning time. You should hear the term ‘rethink’ a lot throughout your programme. ‘Time to think’ and the cultivation of that habit should form part of what you do in such programmes. Sadly, it seldom is embraced and some of the reasons it isn’t is the pressure of the participants themselves, unfamiliar with such reflective disciplines and practice, rebel against its inclusion. It is a costly mistake. Learning how to think as a leader is the means by which you are able to challenge your assumptions and theory. Mark Twain said that, ‘it isn’t what we don’t know that gets us into trouble but rather, what we know for sure that just ain’t so”
# 6: To lead others, you must first lead yourself
You lead ‘out of who you are’. Understanding and tackling this work should be the heart of your leadership development process. There has been too much teaching leaders ‘to do’ and not enough focus and intent on ‘who they are’. There has been too much focus on the skill-set leaders require and not enough emphasis on the leader’s character. Being fit to lead is hard work and although the character ethic has been much written about in leadership literature, it is yet to find a meaningful way into leadership programmes. This is partly due to it being seen as a ‘programme’ and not a ‘process’ as well as the way in which our current programmes are measured. Both contribute to this much needed but much neglected emphasis.
In any organisation developing leaders and grooming potential leaders is not optional. The intent and quality of how you engage this process is most likely going to have a large say in your organisation’s future.
Best then, you do it well!