Those working in the L&D space are especially troubled by the ongoing stigma that leadership development programs don't work--that there's no business impact or ROI--aided by books like Barbara Kellerman's The End of Leadership, in which she talks about the failure of the "leadership industry."
This is far from the truth--leadership development does work. The latest report put out by DDI proves that.
The question is, are companies committed to investing in their future leaders? Not just in terms of dollars, but in time, energy, resources, and a change in belief system? Smaller companies with no L&D budget or even an HR team can quickly pull off a great leadership development strategy (I hesitate to use the word "program") to develop leaders from within.
Here's how to do it.
Start with a predictive assessment tool
Many companies fall short in the assessment of predictive leadership talent. Specialized tools eliminate the tendency of decision makers to pick future leaders who closely resemble themselves, as well as weed out those who are a poor fit for leadership roles.
Before choosing an assessment, managers must determine what success looks like for each leadership role, and align those skills and characteristics to success factors on the job. The leadership skills and disciplines you're assessing should be future-focused to ensure your high potentials have capacity to execute a strategy moving forward.
Most assessments will also inspect a person's past and present behaviors on the job, why they behave a certain way, and when and where he or she is most likely to behave similarly in a future context.
Expose your leaders or high potentials to new responsibilities
Don't be afraid to stretch them with work assignments that will expand their knowledge and sharpen their skills.
Empower your leaders to make decisions on their own and take on additional responsibilities to help them feel like they can own a project or big task.
Unleashing an entrepreneurial spirit in developing your leaders from within brings out the best in them.
Think of all this in terms of creating a learning environment. You want them to explore opportunities inside your company to learn something new, such as joining a cross-functional project, picking up another skill, or leading or participating in a lunch-and-learn.
Championing a learning spirit within the organization sends a clear message that growing your leaders is one of your highest priorities.
Coach them, and then teach them to be coaches
Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, documents that company's incredible financial turnaround in her recent book Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others.
She describes how she created a culture expressed in the principles of how the team works together. One of those principles is coaching--a leadership competency, Bachelder says, for which the company wants to be best in class.
She develops her leaders to be coaches. People, especially Millennials, gravitate to leaders who will coach them to success. So, with strict measures in place, coach your new leaders to their success but also build their capacity for coaching and mentoring others. You want coaching to ultimately become a leadership competency and value that can be unleashed and multiplied across your enterprise.
Help align their goals with your company's mission
People are motivated at a higher level when they can align their work with their company's larger goals. It gives them ownership of what they create and helps them support organizational causes with more purpose. And nothing creates better ownership than allowing current leaders to give and share input for common goals and values.
Implement job rotation
Give high potentials firsthand experience by rotating them through different roles and functions within the organization. The point is to challenge, push, and stretch their skill level. Put them in unfamiliar roles, give them new responsibilities so they get exposure to new skills, and expand their expertise.
Give them purpose
Give meaning and purpose to the leader's work, which will add further motivation for him or her to excel. When you provide training, coaching, and mentoring opportunities, align them with job purpose, performance measures, and the organizational mission.
Becoming a skilled leader is kind of like becoming a skilled doctor or lawyer. Application and practice are key. We become leaders by applying our learning and knowledge and adding experience to our everyday lives. The first step is for decision makers to lay down the righteous path for others to learn, grow, develop, and thrive.