If asked what the most popular program request is at XLC, I would say it is developing leadership skills . . . hands down. I think this stands to reason.
Most of us who have worked in management recognize that knowing how to do something and teaching those skills are two completely separate things. The execution side is MUCH harder to teach since the number of variables we must contend with is astronomical. Most of us conclude that if we all had better influencing and leadership instincts, we might be better able to navigate these complexities.
While some may disagree with me, developing leadership skills is more art than science, and we hope we can equip people with some new ways of thinking that may increase the likelihood “that good things will happen.”
So what does it take to make leadership development work?
Two Types of Organizational Views
The organizations we work with seem to fall into one of two camps. One sees leadership development as an event . . . a seminar, 360 survey, workshop, retreat, or even a multi-session leadership program provided by someone like XLC. While all of these events have some value – it seems unrealistic to think that something like a 360, Strengths workshop, or Myers Briggs session alone will be transformative, any more than a blood pressure or cholesterol test are.
All of these programs are just a beginning. They may open a door for someone, assuming they occur at precisely the right time when the participant is actively seeking new solutions or directions in their leadership journey. But in the end, they are simply a catalyst–not the full experience.
The other camp tends to have a longer term focus, seeing instead leadership development as a continual process. The YouTube clip below is a tongue-in-cheek (and hilarious) illustration.
I think we can all identify with having participated in a workshop like the one depicted in this FEDEX commercial at one time or another.
The camp that sees leadership development as a process tends to view such development as a strategic imperative, one that senior executives believe can make a substantial difference in their overall organizational success.
What Are Some Ingredients for Success?
While I would like to hear from some of you, the following provides us with a starting point:
1) Leadership development should be voluntary
It may seem hard to believe, but we have encountered people in some of our XLC leadership events who were there by command, not choice. They start the program with a cynical, hurt, or even angry perspective that they are seen as being “broken” when they believe it is the ORGANIZATION that is broken, not them. This is no way to start a learning journey. If you are there by choice, because you are looking for new ideas and approaches that can make you more satisfied and successful, it greatly increases the likelihood that you will sustain it.
2) Leadership development should combine events with coaching/mentoring
We can introduce you to some new ideas tools, or concepts that may inspire you to try new leadership and influencing strategies at work. That is the best we can hope for. If we get you to try something new, that’s a big success. However, if you try it out and the results are unsuccessful, you will likely (if you’re like most people) quickly abandon the new behavior for the previous status quo. Without a way of reinforcing the learning and getting help when we stumble, our long-term behaviors are unlikely to change. That’s where coaching comes in. Coaches can be a boss, an external facilitator, or a group of peers. But it is very beneficial to have someone in your corner who is objective, cares about your success, and respects you enough to be truthful.
3) Leadership development should focus on one or two developmental goals at a time
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Most change happens slowly. When it comes to leadership development, then, you should think about small wins–that allow you to succeed early and often. These small successes build self-confidence, and momentum.
4) Leadership development should invite a formal written plan
It isn’t enough to just THINK about becoming better or different. There is a subtle power in the act of writing down your goals and plans. It causes you to clarify your thinking, an d have meaningful priorities. Mostly the act of writing has a way of transforming vague ideas into something tangible and real. To be successful, these plans should define both what and how.
5) Leadership development should cause you to re-assess, in order to validate progress
I am a fan or measuring things. If you don’t measure, you really can’t tell if you are getting better or worse. So seek external data. Whether you use the Leadership Circle Profile, the Leadership Culture Survey (which we use in our Foundations of Leadership program) or some other instruments of your choosing – or even your own design — do something to validate if your intended shifts in behavior are having an impact.
So that’s our list. Let us know what you think may be missing!
March, 2012 | by Jonathan Hulsh, The Leadership Circle