We are often asked how strong leaders can be developed quickly with confidence that they will be successful in the organization. In responding to this question, we always ask three key questions:
1. What does a strong leader look like today?
2. What would make your leaders even stronger?
3. What is the best approach to develop these combined leadership capabilities?
Leveraging present success. — While it’s tempting to start with a blank sheet of paper is designing a leadership development program, it’s not really a good approach. There are many key factors which make today’s high performing leaders successful, and it’s important to understand and leverage these factors. For starters, some of these factors relate to business acumen in your business. In addition, the current leadership style fits your culture which is a big advantage. Moving to a different style means moving to a new culture. This can be accomplished, but not so quickly. Hence, the classic mistake that is made all too often where companies adopt new leadership competencies based on competency libraries while ignoring what’s already working. Most of the time, the new competencies get only lip service and the old ways of work continue. This does not add real value and has the disadvantage of being a visible failure or, all too often, a veritable joke which hurts HR’s reputation with the business.
We take an assessment-based approach, using the Bizet Job Activity Rating to profile behaviors of successful leaders. Once we do this, it’s easy to measure where potential future leaders are in their progress against these behaviors. This gives us a great baseline from which to build.
Adding new leadership behaviors gently. Once the baseline has been established, it will be clear which potentially desirable leadership behaviors are absent. In doing this analysis, we work with a list of 15 behavioral leadership attributes which we’ve observed as most effective over the last two decades. We group these attributes into three categories:
1. Personal effectiveness. — The ability of a leader to understand people, issues and needs in a sophisticated and nuanced way, unimpeded by personal vulnerabilities. It is the foundation of leadership.
2. Relational effectiveness. — The ability of a leader to engage with others for the dual purpose of building relationships and leveraging them for the benefit of the business.
3. Assertiveness. — The ability of a leader to have impact. Without impact, a leader will not be perceived as successful.
We look at the existing successful leadership behaviors and identify the category where they are lacking. We then make suggestions as to which attributes from that category would be good additions for future leaders of the organization. It’s very important to keep the list short, adding only one or two changes every couple of years. Rarely do we recommend being more aggressive. We limit such advice to situations where current leadership is not successful, giving us no strong baseline from which to build.
Choosing a development approach. — Depending on the new leadership attributes chosen, we make recommendations for the best way to add these behaviors for existing leaders and introduce them to future leaders. These may include coaching, workshops, training and experiential learning.
Let’s take an example. Assume that the organization’s leaders are weak in emotional intelligence, a key attribute within personal effectiveness. We would suggest having the leaders participate in a workshop where emotional intelligence would be assessed, explained, demonstrated and role played with the assistance of experienced facilitators. Following the workshop, we would probably recommend some limited coaching for the leaders to reinforce the new behavior followed by reassessment six months later to validate changed behaviors. We would also recommend modifying programs within the organization to embed emotional intelligence training into existing curricula.
One final point. There are times where even successful leaders have some undesirable behaviors. In these cases, in addition to slowly adding new behaviors, we would help develop a program for mitigating these undesirable behaviors.