Leadership Development: A Clarion Call for Expertise

In today’s Harvard Business Review Blog Network, Michael Beer presents an articulate post on the need for business schools to focus on teaching integration – both business and personal.  He posits the growing imperative of business leaders’ competence not in siloed bastions of business basics, but rather in multi-disciplinary integration to meet the needs of a rapidly changing competitive environment.  Business leaders must “start with the development of the company’s purpose and strategy, and then proceed to design performance management, business and human resource policies, and leadership development practices that are tied to essential human values that then comprise an integrated whole.”

As a veteran educator, Beer’s clarion call to MBA program is not off the mark.  But it fails to fully address the lack of integrated leadership in corporations.  Clearly, business schools hold a key role in helping train leaders who can (and will) shape the future economic successes (or failures) of American industry.  And yet, this clarion call should equally address the leadership development practices and programs of individual organizations.

Over the past decade, American business schools have cranked out a growing number of MBAs.  Specializations within business schools have increased significantly.  The halls of most companies have seen a marked proliferation of first-line and middle management professionals with either MBAs or certifications of executive management programs from top institutions.  And yet, business failure rates and economic struggles have paralleled the growth of this “degreed” management proletariat.

Take a look at most corporate leadership development approaches, and it’s easy to point out the deficiencies.  Canned, off-the-shelf leadership development “systems” have proliferated in recent years.  Rarely are leadership programs data-driven or results-proven.  Success is gauged by participation, not application of concepts presented.  And typically, corporate training staff, while skilled educators and facilitators, rarely possess the leadership experience or credibility necessary to pass along or evaluate insights beyond anecdotal and popularized (yet rarely empirically demonstrated) practices.

It’s time for organizations to get serious about leadership development.  Stop relying on business school products to bridge the growing leadership gaps necessary to address the increasingly complex problems facing business entities.  The following steps should be viewed as requirements for any basic leadership development program:

1)   Leadership development programs must be based on evaluated conditions within the individual organization – To be blunt, if your organization has not conducted a thorough, and scientifically valid, evaluation of the primary leadership challenges, competency strengths and weaknesses, and strategic organization direction, money invested in leadership development will be largely wasted.

2)   Leadership Development solutions should be customized to fit your organization’s unique set of needs and challenges – Off-the-shelf development interventions are the domain of sub-par organizations, who know they should be developing their leaders, but who lack the wherewithal to truly gain ground in this arena.  Invest the money necessary to address the specific needs of your organization, and you will reap the rewards in leadership strength and organizational efficiency.

3)   Leadership Development programs must be measureable and adaptable – Only through rigorous measurement and evaluation (with pre-established success criteria) can we truly gauge the efficacy of development efforts.  Metrics should be tied to strategic goals of the organization, and if programs fail to achieve intended results, leaders must have the courage to trim the sails and chart a new course.  However, if programs are assessment-based and customized, the likelihood of having to drastically change course are typically fairly low.

Easier said than done, you might say.  And you’d be right.  The plethora of management and leadership consultants and firms confounds many organizations.  Too often, the individuals tasked with finding and contracting for outside expertise themselves lack the know-how to choose the right vendors and advisors.  In fact, anyone can hang a shingle professing expertise in developing leaders.  So, here’s come advice….

The field of Industrial and Organizational Psychology is uniquely equipped to provide the guidance and expertise necessary to create and implement truly effective leadership development.  Combining doctoral rigor in the design and conduct of scientifically and statistically valid assessment, an thorough understanding of the psychology and practice of leadership, up-to-date knowledge in evaluating trends and fads, and expertise in implementation of formal, informal, and coaching-style leadership development interventions, industrial/organizational psychologists are a small, but growing pool of experts to be sought out by organizations.

The Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology (SIOP) provides a solid starting point from which to begin your search for qualified and competent experts to help you create an impactful and appropriate leadership development program for your organization.  Take advantage of their website to locate individuals and firms that can walk you through the three critical steps of designing leadership development programs that will be truly effective: 1) Initial assessment and evaluation using statistically and scientifically valid methods, 2) Customized solutions that speak to the unique needs of your organization, and 3) Post-implementation evaluation tied directly to the bottom-line results for your organization.

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