Is your organization planning to create a leadership development program? Does your organization already have a program in place? If so, this article will help you plan or quickly decide if you are on the right track. Five crucial questions to ask:
1. How does the program link to organizational goals/strategic objectives?
Question number one. Why/How will leadership development help us get where we want to go? Is it the answer? In other words, what are our organizational objectives and how will leadership development assist an organization in meeting those objectives? Defining the strategic imperative for leadership development is an important step in the overall process. In addition, what organizational resources are being committed to the project? Moreover, who will be developing the program? Is it an individual who will get to it “when they can” or an individual who truly knows leadership development?
2. How are you defining leadership & leadership development?
Each theory of leadership has inherent benefits and drawbacks. Regardless, leadership development initiatives should rest upon solid theory of leadership. The theory provides the roadmap for what you hope to develop in others. A leadership development initiative not built on a theoretical foundation is at a disadvantage and, in extreme cases, may teach concepts and topics having little to do with leadership.
A few theories to investigate are transformational leadership, situational leadership and emotional intelligence. If nothing else, be cognizant of how you define leadership and leadership development. I often encounter leadership development programs that focus very little on leadership development. For instance, they focus on functional tasks and management duties rather than leadership. To learn more about theories of leadership, please visit The Center for Leader Development Leadership Wiki.
3. What are the competencies/skills you hope to develop?
In his book Learning to Lead, Jay Conger (1992) outlines four categories of leadership training. These include: personal growth, conceptual understanding, feedback and skill building. Personal growth programs are “based, generally, on the assumption that leaders are individuals who are deeply in touch with their personal dreams and talents and who will act to fulfill them” (p. 45-46). Essentially, the purpose of these programs is to increase self-awareness and emphasize self-exploration.
The second category is conceptual understanding, which primarily focuses on theories of leadership. Leadership development through feedback is the third category and instruments such as the MBTI and 360-degree instruments are used in an effort to help individuals locate areas for improvement.
Conger’s final category is skill building. According to Conger, this is the most common method utilized in leadership development training and has grown increasingly difficult to teach as our thinking about leadership has progressed. However, to truly develop skills, it takes a great deal of time and must be reinforced back on the job; Conger (1992) asserts that “a four or five-day program can introduce the basics of a skills set to participants, but cannot truly develop it for most of them” (p. 179).
4. What sources of learning will you use?
Sources of learning (also called development tools) are the primary vehicles for delivering leadership development learning activities before, during and after the leadership development program. In essence, once you have determined the skills/competencies for development sources of learning are the activities that foster learning (we hope!). Organizations often use one or two sources of learning for leadership development, when in fact, a combination will likely yields better results. There are more than 30, however some common sources of learning include:
• Outdoor Management/Leadership Development—a set of carefully sequenced and integrated physical activities conducted (primarily) in the outdoors and designed to facilitate participant behavior change.
• Simulations—management games are used to create experiential environments within which learning and behavioral changes can occur and in which managerial behavior can be observed. Simulations require trainees to analyze complex problems and make decisions.
• Individual or Group Reflection—a formalized opportunity for individuals and/or groups to reflect on events, activities and experiences.
• Just-in-Time Training (JIT)—JIT is designed to provide the learner with information at the time of “need.”
• Individual Development Plans—a personal development plan is a process through which the individual prepares a training and development plan, and for which the individual takes responsibility.
• Developmental Assignments/Job Assignments—these are on the job placements that have two attributes (1) challenge and (2) an opportunity to learn.
• Job Rotation—managers are assigned work in a variety of different functional subunits of the organization for periods of time varying from six months to three years.
• Developmental Relationships/Mentoring—occurs through an interpersonal relationship where a more experienced manager helps a less experienced protégé; the mentor is usually at a higher managerial level and is not the protégé’s immediate boss.
• Networking with Senior Executives—marked by exposure to, and relationship building with, senior executives in an organization.
• Action Learning—action learning, in brief, is learning from concrete experience and critical reflection on that experience – through group discussion, trial and error, discovery, and learning from and with each other.
• Classroom-Based Training—learning that is bound to the confines of a formal classroom. Often led by an instructor or facilitator.
• E-Learning—the use of computer network technology, primarily over an intranet or though the Internet, to deliver information and instruction to individuals.
• Executive Coaching—a relationship formed between a client who has managerial authority and responsibility in an organization and a consultant who uses a wide variety of behavioral techniques and methods to help the client achieve a mutually identified set of goals to improve his or her professional performance and personal satisfaction.
• 360s or Multi-Rater Instruments—managers receive information about their skills and behaviors from standardized questionnaires filled out by other people such as subordinates, peers, superiors and sometimes, outsiders such as clients.
Again, each source of learning differs in its difficulty to administer, cost, return on investment and effectiveness. However, it is likely that a combination of approaches will work best. A more in-depth discussion of the various sources of learning can be found at the Center for Leader Development's Leadership Wiki.5. How will the leadership development program link to organizational systems?
Once the leadership development program is finished, how will it link to other aspects of the organization? For instance, performance management systems can link to leadership development and not solely measurable business objectives such as widgets sold, budget, and the like. If an organization hopes to develop leaders, an evaluation of leadership abilities is an important metric. In addition, organizations that espouse a belief in leadership development but in practice only reward individuals for “making goal” are sending a mixed message.
Other examples of business systems may include staffing, succession planning and personal development plans. In their Handbook of Leadership Development the Center for Creative Leadership suggests, “To be fully effective, a development system must be integrated with the organization’s other processes: management planning, performance management, job selection, reward and recognition systems, and even mistake systems. The confluence of these processes determines the relative effectiveness of any one development activity” (p. 228-229).
This article highlights a number of concepts examined in depth by the author at the Center for Leader Development Leadership Wiki. Check back in a few weeks to read part two of “Corporate Leadership Development: 10 Crucial Questions.”