An Ivy League university brought in leadership and management consultant Jim McCormick to help the 30 members of the development staff create a program for their growth within the organization. The first thing he did was meet with them individually because each one had strengths, issues, preferences, and personality traits that put them at slightly different points along the continuum to developing leadership capabilities. McCormick notes: “One size fits all does not work for a leadership or any other professional development program. Each person has a slightly different relationship to the organization in addition to coming in with unique traits and aspirations.” With that in mind, the first element of a leadership development program makes it personal.
Element #1: Put Leadership in Context
In his book The First-Time Manager, McCormick emphasizes the importance of dovetailing. In carpentry, a dovetail joint is one of the strongest ways to join two pieces of wood. In business, dovetailing means joining the individual and the organization in the strongest way possible. It begins by focusing on the individual employee’s personal and professional goals and strengths, as McCormick did with the university team.
Dovetailing gets to the heart of why an employee wants to develop leadership traits.
Element #2: Make Leadership Meaningful
At military service academies like West Point, upperclassmen teach, coach, organize, mentor, and manage. Their leadership skills develop through on-the-job training, which is supervised by officers on the faculty of the academy. It is a model that some companies use in leadership development programs—and it works.
One of the shortcomings of many leadership development programs is that participants are removed to a campus-like setting where they reflect on the meaning of leadership and study great leaders and how they’ve acted in various situations. The retention level of classroom-based programs like that is low compared to experiential learning. Even if the program is something not related to work, like the Army Ranger-style training provided by Leading Concepts, if it is experiential, it has a much higher rate of conveying concepts that stick.
Element #3: Address Personal Responses to Change
“Leadership development” implies change, and the fact is, many people are change averse. Change invites people into unfamiliar territory; fear of the unknown can dominate their thinking and inhibit learning. In the case of a leadership development program, participants may worry that they will not do well—that they won’t be able to make the changes necessary to succeed.
A leadership development program must include coaching and experiences that help participants move past that resistance to change. The aim is a two-step process:
- Move them toward exploration of the personal and organizational benefits to the changes in their behavior as they grow their leadership capabilities.
- Celebrate their commitment to growth as leaders. Keep their focus on “what’s next” as a result of their changes.
Element #4: Give Qualitative and Quantitative Feedback
This is not an epilogue to the story; this is the last chapter. A leadership development program must include a process of communicating to employees how their growth as leaders is making a difference. Look at their individual work performance, impact on the organization, and other factors that illustrate to them, “You did this. Be proud!”
Many consulting and coaching firms do a great job of addressing one or more of the elements described above. Keep in mind that there is value in weaving them into your organization’s leadership development program. However, it’s vital that the leaders you already have in your organization are part of the program. It is one more demonstration to employees in the program that the organization values their efforts to grow and achieve.
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