The End of Leadership Development?

The End of Leadership Development?

08.29.12Daniel Dworkin

We’ve all heard the saying “what got us here, won’t get us there”. Well, it’s certainly true of developing the next generation of leaders. It’s a constantly evolving business landscape out there, and the pace of change is only accelerating. Today’s organizations are more global, more distributed and yet more connected than ever. Supply chains are incredibly intricate. Globalization and technology are vehicles of consistent disruption. This kind of environment demands a new kind of leadership – one that can deliver results despite increasing complexity – and that means rethinking the classic leadership development levers of assessment, training, and coaching.

Here are three tips for evolving leadership development and cultivating leaders who get results:

  • Leverage data, not intuition. By this point, most professionals understand that “shooting from the hip” doesn’t usually achieve the results you’re after. Just as sizing up athletes based on their looks is a losing strategy, so is selecting and developing high potential talent from your gut. So, the question is not so much, “Should I use data to inform leadership development programming?” but rather, “What data is most important?” It’s easy to get lost in performance metrics when there are too many to choose from. And while the stats lovers out there might get a kick out of analyzing as much data as is possible to collect, the payoff of such efforts is uncertain. The trick is to identify a few metrics that matter most to leadership success in your organization and industry and focus on those. What are those critical metrics for your organization? Sales? Quality? Speed to market? Perhaps it’s a combination of a few? Once you’ve determined what is most important, you can set up challenges for leaders to build their skills in those areas while simultaneously addressing real, pressing business issues.
  • Do more with less. In the midst of the current economic environment, even flush organizations are looking for ways to cut costs. Leadership development is often one of the first items to go. The reason is that there’s a widely held conception – and I would argue a misconception – that developing strong leaders has to be a cost center. The truth is, if done right, a strong, hands-on, results-oriented leadership development program can and should be a profit center. Developing leaders and driving organizational performance must be one and the same thing. And when I say, “driving organizational performance”, I’m not talking about soft metrics like employee engagement – as much as I believe in the value of engaged employees. I mean cold, hard business results – selling more, penetrating new markets, cutting costs. The kinds of metrics that make CFOs smile.
  • Demand results. Leadership development should be oriented around finding the most efficient, effective way to build leaders in your organization who produce results. If your leadership development program is not producing results, it’s not doing what it’s supposed to. You know the big, fancy leadership development off sites with the expensive key note speakers and the breakout groups where participants flip chart ideas about how to improve the company and then promptly forget about those ideas and go back to doing whatever it is they were doing before the meeting? That’s the antithesis of strong leadership development. It’s a fun couple of days, but it’s not developing leaders and it’s certainly not producing results.

Leadership development cannot afford to stay the same. Now more than ever, we need leaders capable of navigating the uncertain waters of ongoing business transitions. To make an impact, we have to rethink tried and true strategies. Assessment, training, and coaching are by no means going away, but they are not enough. By infusing short-term performance sprints that strengthen leadership skills while addressing critical business challenges, we can reaffirm the centrality of leadership development to success in the short and long-term.

What are you doing to develop leaders that get results?

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