To help promising employees become effective business leaders, companies can establish leadership development programs. These programs serve a number of purposes. In addition to keeping leadership promotions in-house, they inspire creativity, boost employee morale, and facilitate collaboration that leads to industry-changing ideas.
However, leadership development programs take a great deal of work and continued evaluation. Before creating such a program, companies need to have clearly identified vision and goals that will inspire a new generation of leaders. Vision and goals help companies identify which behaviors they want to encourage and what they look for in future leadership.
Companies should consider the following questions when constructing a leadership development program:
What Does a Leadership Development Program Entail?
The first goal of a leadership development program is to identify the employees who have the most potential as future leaders. However, this goal is more complicated than it sounds, and a number of theories exist for choosing leadership candidates.
Some companies choose to put all staff members into leadership development programs to improve overall efficiency while allowing stars to rise to the top. Other companies permit current leaders to choose potential successors. In either case, company leaders need to understand that the best employees do not necessarily make the best leaders. Different qualities define great employees and great leaders, and it is wise for leadership to specify exactly what they want from their leaders.
Once company leaders have identified participants in a development program, they should focus the curriculum on real-world opportunities that enable participants to develop the skills that they will need on a daily basis. Companies can use everything from case studies to immersive mock experiences to provide participants with a practical education that emphasizes current policies and philosophies. Importantly, all instructors for the program should have a strong history of leadership that allows participants to look up to them as role models.
Programs must also emphasize the modern global economy. More than ever, workforces are becoming decentralized, and leaders need to understand how to stay effective in this context. Today, leaders too often rely solely on e-mail and neglect phone conversations or videoconferences, which help develop real relationships. For that reason, leadership development programs need to emphasize effective communication in different work environments.
What Can Go Wrong with a Leadership Development Program?
A failed program means a great deal of wasted time and resources. Therefore, companies must ensure that their programs are as effective as possible. Leadership programs can fail for a number of reasons, but a few issues come up more often than others.
One of the most common problems with leadership development programs is that they do not look at context. In these programs, “one size fits all” does not work. People need to learn a variety of leadership skills that work in different contexts so that they can change their approaches as necessary.
Creating long lists of leadership standards is less meaningful than emphasizing real competencies. Through these competencies, individuals can apply their skills to different situations. When candidates simply memorize standards, they continue to perform the same regardless of the changing contexts of a business.
The issue of context became most visible during the economic downturn, when many leaders failed to change their approach to deal with the new business environment. Today’s leaders need to be ready for such rapidly changing contexts and know how to respond to them most effectively.
Programs also encounter difficulties when they emphasize behavior over mindset. The most successful leaders understand the extreme importance of mindsets in guiding behavior. Look at the root cause of behavior can prove uncomfortable for mentors, instructors, and participants, but this work is extremely important because it helps leaders to get to know themselves and understand their potential shortcomings. Without understanding the causes of behavior, leaders have no hope of making lasting changes.
Some companies may also encounter problems because they fail to measure the results of their leadership development program. Without evaluation, companies have no idea whether the program is having a positive impact on productivity or really preparing individuals to do well in leadership positions. Companies that clearly track leadership performance over time will end up with programs that their employees will take more seriously.
Evaluation needs to include more than just participant feedback. When companies rely solely on this sort of data, instructors can begin changing the curriculum to be more pleasing, yet less challenging, for participants. Instead, companies need to look at a few key markers of leadership success and set benchmarks for the program. For example, companies may want to track the career development of participants to see how many ascend to positions of higher responsibility within a given number of years.
Of course, simply having an evaluation system is not enough. Companies also need to take the feedback that they receive as part of the evaluation, whether positive or negative, to continue refining the program. This process helps create the best possible program that mirrors the values of the company while creating a new generation of highly effective leaders.