Shifting Focus in Leadership Development

“Over the past decade,” Tanya said, puffing up in her seat in obvious pride, “we’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into developing our leaders.”  Yet, a shadow of uncertainty clouded her eyes as she spoke.

“You must have the best leaders in the industry, then,” I replied.

Her smile slowly faded.  Clearly, the resources directed toward building a stronger leadership corps were only part of the picture.  As the VP of HR and a rising star at her biotechnology company, she was hearing increasing grumbles about the leadership development budget and its mixed outcomes.  The leaders just seemed the same, she explained.  Same people.  Same issues.  Same production results.  The warm and satisfied sentiments of the first several years of the new leadership development program were quickly fading.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to Tanya’s company, the biotech industry, or even just for-profit corporations.  It’s become a fairly ubiquitous realization for many accountable HR executives, charged with the unenviable task of ensuring a constantly evolving and strengthening leadership group.

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog article, long-time executive coach, Pamela Weiss was quoted as saying, “If you want to transform an organization, it’s not about changing systems and processes so much as it’s about changing the hearts and minds of people.”  This idea is equally applicable to leadership development programming.  It’s not about the program you put into place, but rather the mindset and motivation of the leaders you’re trying to develop.

So, if the goal is truly to strengthen your organization’s leadership corps, focus on the following three key aspects before designing anything:

  • Ensure your leaders want to develop – This goes to the ingrained motivation of leaders to continuously recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and to dedicate themselves to be stronger leaders.  If you have leaders who don’t have the time and/or energy for self-development, replace them with those who do.  Don’t waste your time on “satisfied” leaders.
  • Think about measurement – The key to any successful development program is comprehensive and valid use of metrics.  Ensure you have experts on staff, or hire some, who truly understand psychometrics and their use.  Without this expertise, your ability to know the benefits of any leadership development program is left up to chance.
  • Mix individualized development with organizational development – Gone are the days when the traditional “Corporate University” approach, with it standard development track and set course structure.  Through the careful use of individual assessment, determining the specific needs and desires of each leader first leads to buy-in, engagement, and focus.  Start there and use areas of strategic weakness within the organization to drive larger “courses” and programs.

By focusing first on these three points, you shift the focus from the impersonal “organizational need” to the individual leader.  And by doing so, you indirectly fulfill the organizational leadership competencies.  It’s a win-win situation for all involved, and it makes the job of the HR executive much more rewarding and influential.

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