Developing future leaders can be an expensive business. You’re second-guessing in some ways what’s going to be required in the future of a leader and how you can begin to equip them so they can deal with this future with confidence and clarity. Whilst in other areas, you clearly know what’s required.
The next challenge is how you blend this learning together so that real change and integration takes place within the leader. The easy part is the skills they need to learn and practice. The hard part is the qualities they need to develop and embody.
Leadership development is a mix of on the job, in moment opportunities to practice what they’ve read, seen others do, learned in the classroom, the boardroom, the coaching and mentoring sessions. Too often though it’s seen as separate bits that are never integrated. #blendedlearning
The Ways And Whys of Developing Your Leaders
Initially, all leadership development is via osmosis. They soak up what they see other leaders do and imitate. Monkey see monkey do. Not the most refined way of developing the future of your business. Now they’ve picked up good and bad habits and as we know habits are hard things to break.
Then we might send them on a 3-day leadership course. This can be very hit and miss depending on how it was designed, who it’s really for, what it can and can’t realistically achieve. It also massively depends on the attendee’s reason for being there. Sometimes a leader will show up on a course and they don’t really know why they’re there.
“I’ve heard it was good.”
“I wanted to visit the city / my friends who live here” (well at least that’s honest).
“My boss told me to come (but I don’t know why)”.
Not the most powerful start for them, or for someone like me who really wants to help them take their leadership to the next level.
Of course, more established and senior leaders don’t always do much better.
“I need to role model learning/show this topic is important, so I thought I’d better attend a course”. This is fine assuming the person also wants to implement what they’ve learned rather than just attend a course.
“My 360 showed I needed to X and so I’m here”. Do you agree with your 360? “Nope but attending this will shut them up.”
Developing a skill in someone when they don’t see why is hard. Developing a quality is a far tougher challenge and often better done through coaching and mentoring programme rather than a short training course.
The challenge for leaders then is supporting the developing leader in becoming aware of what will be needed and why rather than waiting until it’s well and truly needed, and problems are already ensuing.
If we wait, it’s easier to get the person to want to learn, they can feel the pain of the problem and see the need, but it can come with a sense of I’m drowning a little here and I really don’t want to make any more mistakes. Which means they often return from the course and get sucked into the day to day stuff and old habits.
Comfortable and known, even when it brings problems, is oddly easier than going back and feeling uncomfortable practicing something they’ve learned but not yet got down as natural .
Design Leadership Development Fit For Purpose
Over the years of developing resilient and authentic leaders, the route that tends to get the most ROI for the business and for the individual leader is a year-long program that’s a mix of intensive training and powerful 1:1 coaching and mentoring sessions. That way both skills and qualities can be addressed and there is the opportunity to tailor to the individual’s requirements. Before it begins the CEO or whoever is the leader of the participant explains why they want them to attend and what they expect from it. During the programme, they continue to have conversations. It’s not we’ve sent you on a programme and that’s it, hands-off approach. That rarely delivers value and results for the business.
All of this takes forethought, planning, and commitment. Honestly, there are many leadership development initiatives in business that aren’t fit for purpose, but they’re established and again it’s easier to stick with what is than bite the bullet and create something that you believe will work but don’t have proof yet that it will. And truthfully no business is going to invest at this level in all its leaders, there is some element of selection and cherry picking.
Investing in your future leaders
When you know you’d like to keep the person as you believe they’re part of the future success of your business, then it’s certainly time to invest in developing their leadership. Don’t wait until they’re bored, slightly restless, feeling appreciated but not valued and then hope this will keep them.
There is the beautiful dilemma, what if I develop them and they leave: what if you don’t and they stay. I’ve known leaders stay with companies after this level of investment who without it would have certainly gone. I’ve known others go on to leave, and they credit the investment in their leadership as a reason for their success. They also have a fondness for the company that invested in them, they’re an advocate for the company. So, whilst they may no longer work there, they do still want that company to succeed. And occasionally they come back, all the richer for working elsewhere.
Investing in the future of your leadership
One final thought. What about your ability to lead in the future? How are you keeping yourself in the mix, staying ahead of the curve, ensuring you’re relevant for the business you lead now and the one you want to lead in the future? That is the sneaky challenge for some leaders, they get to a certain point and forget about themselves. And slowly, creepingly, they become less relevant, less agile, less valuable. Don’t do that to yourself. One solution could be to invest in 1:1 session with a good coach and mentor. In the space of either half a day or a day you could be back ahead of the curve.