One More Time: How Do We Develop Leaders?
Leadership development continues to be a critical issue for companies as baby boomers retire and global competition for essential skill sets increases. With today’s continually changing technology and multi-national marketplace, leadership development must be an on-going process, not a one-time check-off on an executive’s To Do list, if companies want to stay competitive.
Leadership development begins with examining the skill sets the organization will need to achieve its goals within the next five years. The focus must be on the future because companies create value by what they can deliver tomorrow, not by what they did yesterday.
Take a Fresh Look at Skill Sets
If you already have a leadership competency model, be careful that it has not gone stale. Is it in tune with changes in the marketplace? Has your technology changed recently? Are your customers beginning to demand more or different services from you? Are you now selling or operating in different countries? These questions and similar ones all lead to one important point: you need to periodically take a fresh look at the skill sets needed for the company’s future success.
If you don’t already have a competency model, you need a list of specific skills and behaviors required of a leader in order to achieve desired results. A competency model is the blueprint for leadership development as well as performance management. Leadership competencies involve skill sets such as change management, coaching and employee development, business understanding, the ability to build business alliances, and emotional intelligence. Additional competencies may include the ability to work with a diverse group of individuals, as well as an entrepreneurial orientation that emphasizes initiative and new ways of doing things to increase results. It is important for these competencies to include observable behaviors so that leaders know what is expected of them and managers know what to look for in terms of work performance.
Are Key Leaders Demonstrating Competencies?
Once you have refined your competency model, it is important to measure how effectively your key leaders demonstrate these competencies. This can be accomplished best through 360 degree survey evaluations that provide significant feedback to leaders about key areas for their continued development. The competency model is customized into the 360 degree survey questionnaire completed by peers, bosses, direct reports, and the employee’s internal and external customers. The results of the survey provide a gap analysis that gives companies an accurate view of their leaders’ strengths and weaknesses, pointing out what is needed for each person’s development to achieve future business results.
Leadership development cannot occur without accurate, objective feedback. Executives, human resources professionals, and outside consultants must openly discuss developmental needs with leaders. Managers must provide critical coaching and reinforcement. High potential future leaders react enthusiastically to an opportunity for such feedback and development—a powerful tool for leaders who want to be the executives of tomorrow. Remember that organizations change only when their leaders change. They are the role models who set the direction for the employees who carry out the daily mission of the organization.
Customized Training Plans Are Critical
Customized training plans are critical for success in any leadership development program. To give the company the greatest return on its investment in leadership development, training plans need to focus on specific behavioral changes for individuals to practice, as well as on the job assignments that provide the opportunity to demonstrate the enhanced behavioral skills. True leadership development takes individuals out of their comfort zones and requires them to stretch and learn. Those not willing to put such demands on themselves are less likely to be successful leaders now or in the future. Without openness to feedback, leaders lack the information necessary to enhance the skills that are most important to the company’s future success. Resistance to feedback and lack of flexibility are derailers in today’s ever-changing marketplace.
Leadership development is not simply succession planning, which historically focuses on replacing slots in the organizational chart. Effective leadership development equips a company to anticipate and respond to change. To succeed in this, leadership development must be personally supported and modeled by top executives.