You may not know it yet, but your leadership development program is a treasure trove of insight into the performance of your organization. Powerful, game-changing clues about the issues holding back your enterprise are hidden in plain sight.
Every time you put a high-potential employee or a promising manager through your leadership development system, he or she leaves behind a gift – another data point exposing the recurring, unhealthy patterns in your organization; patterns that your emerging leaders are forced to confront every day of their leadership journey with your firm.
Most executives who consider introducing a leadership development program into their company, do so with one aim: to develop their leaders. And that is a worthy objective. Too many organizations see no value at all in investing in the growth of their people, and then scratch their heads and wring their hands and wonder why their recruitment, retention and productivity metrics are so low. Developing emerging leadership talent is essential to the high-performing, strategically minded, successful organization. And those executives who invest in their people in this way understand this reality. They get it.
But a well-designed leadership development program can deliver far more value to an organization than simply the development of their people.
Discovering what’s working and what’s not
A well-designed leadership development program can produce a continual stream of knowledge about what is working and what is not working within your organization, its core systems, culture, and strategy.
Any leadership coach worth his or her salt can tell you the critical obstacles getting in the way of higher performance within your organization. After a single round of coaching half-a-dozen clients within an organization, even the least experienced leadership coach can see the recurring challenges your people confront in trying to do their jobs. The silos. The politics and hidden agendas. The disconnects among senior management. The broken processes. The unclear goals and metrics.
Those revelations are not only found in the verbalized complaints of the program participant. In fact, the most remarkable insights are more subtle than that. They are hidden within the leadership vision of the client themselves.
You see, an effective leadership development program is more than a handful of hastily assembled, generic, big brand training courses designed by authors with no direct experience of your organization. The very best, most transformative leadership development programs are designed to fit the unique context of your organization – encompassing the special combination of core principles, processes and tools that ensure leadership success in your company.
Co-authoring the leadership vision
More than that, the very best leadership development programs involve a process of co-authoring between the company, the coach, and the client. It is in that process of co-authoring that we find the most amazing wisdom about the way your team truly works.
Co-authored leadership development programs begin with the defining of a target – a profile of ideal leadership established by the company, defining the kind of leaders needed in order to authentically and consistently manifest the envisioned culture and high-performance standards of the business.
The next usual step is an assessment process to determine where the program participant stands relative to the target leadership profile – her strengths and weaknesses relative to the ideal.
It is at this point that too many companies make a critical error in their process. After the organization establishes the target and assesses the performance gaps of each participant, too many companies jump right in and begin the development program.
Uncovering what’s undermining your leaders
But they have missed a vital step. They have missed the opportunity to invite the client herself into the visioning process.
When the emerging leader can co-author their vision for leadership it immediately creates a new level of buy-in essential to the transformational process.
But the contributions your program participants make to the creation of their vision will also tell you what they believe is truly required for leadership success in your organization. And when you assess the recurring patterns in that feedback you immediately see opportunities to improve the overall performance of your organization.
For example, if every participant in your leadership development program identifies negotiating skills as an essential area for improvement in their leadership, that may indicate something about how difficult it is to collaborate or innovate in your firm. If most participants in your program add work-life balance or time management to their list of priority development areas, that may be exposing something about the demands your operating culture is placing on your people.
A well-designed and well-managed leadership development program can help you unearth these insights while fully respecting the confidentiality of each individual participant. You just need to look.
Executives committed to creating healthy, high-performing organizations can leverage their leadership development program to do so in powerful new ways. But such a program must be customized to fit the unique context of your organization, with deep engagement and buy-in from program clients, participating not only as students, but as co-authors of their ideal leadership vision.