By Charles Gerhold, M.A., Senior Consultant

The necessity of high quality leadership development programs is greater than ever. A dizzying convergence of factors are creating a business environment that requires more effective leadership across all levels of the organization.

  • The “silver tsunami” of Baby Boomers leaving the workforce has created a void. Over 10,000 Baby Boomers are leaving the workforce every day!
  • Millennials have grown up – the youngest Millennials turn 21 in 2018; the oldest Millennials are pushing 40 years old. This generation makes up the largest age group of the US workforce, having surpassed Gen-X in 2015.
  • A growing number of organizations have recognized that being more inclusive is a huge competitive advantage. Many are setting more aggressive targets around gender equality, racial and ethnic inclusion, and have broadened their definition of diversity to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • The context of business is changing. Leading is becoming more difficult in a world that is more Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (aka: VUCA). Leaders need to be more versatile, adaptable, and courageous than ever.

It doesn’t matter the size of your organization; effective leadership skills are falling behind as the need is increasing – and CEO’s are worried. According to research from The Conference Board, CEOs see innovation, customer relationships, and operational excellence as significant needs and CEOs cite human capital and leadership readiness as a top priority to address these needs.

Organizations have recognized the need to invest in leadership development. According to a 2012 report by Bersin by Deloitte, US companies spent almost $14 Billion on leadership development, that’s billion with a “B.” And organizations continue to devote even more resources to talent development. Budgets for training and Development increased 27% in 2017. Those of us responsible for leadership development have the responsibility to ensure these significant investments lead to real and meaningful behavior change. Behavior change that improves the overall health and profitability of our organizations.

There are several factors that we can focus on to increase the impact of leadership development programs – quality program content, executive sponsorship, adequate time and resources, measuring outcomes, and ensuring programs are aligned with organizational needs are all important. But the single greatest factor impacting the effectiveness of leadership development lies within the leader. Those leaders who are self-accountable for their own development are the leaders who grow their capabilities. Without individual leader self-accountability, the investment in leadership development will have greatly diminished value.

That means, that for leadership development programs to be successful, the programs must facilitate and support the desire to learn and grow within individual leaders.  Because we can see the value and potential benefits of the programs we design, it’s easy to assume that our organization’s leaders will recognize the value.  But, without adequate communication and connection, our leaders may view the programs we work so hard to develop as something we are “putting them through” instead of taking ownership.

The good news is, there are some simple steps we can take to facilitate the self-accountability of leaders in their leadership development journey. And while these steps are simple in concept, creating the rigor and sustainability of effective leadership development requires significant effort, attention, and investment.

Step one: Prior to any development activity, the leader needs to have an accurate and credible individual assessment of his or her development needs. If the assessment is not accurate, we focus on developing the wrong skills. If it’s not credible, the leader is unlikely to dedicate any real commitment to the activity.

Step two: The action planning – that is, how new leadership capabilities will be acquired and applied on the job needs to be supported with the right resources and content – content that is clearly aligned to the defined individual development needs as well as his or her current or future role.

Step three: Ongoing support and measurement – the leader’s progress on attaining and applying new skills needs to be regularly reviewed and progress measured. The adage, “that which gets measured get done” is true. Without the positive tension of measurement it is easy for leadership development to become a lower priority.

By following these three simple (but not necessarily easy) steps, meaningful and productive leadership development will occur.

These steps for success are true for both individual and group development interventions. Whether you are leading a large group of emerging leaders in classroom training or providing an executive 360-degree feedback and coaching, leaders must have a clear understanding of their individual development needs and understand the relevance of the intervention for them personally.

How you execute these steps depends on a number of factors including, the level of leader you are supporting, the specific development needs, whether you are providing one-on-one coaching or large group training, your organizational structure, and your industry and business context. How you structure your programs will vary, but addressing these specific steps to ensure the most meaningful impact of your efforts should not.

To learn more about how to support the development of your leaders, check out my recent webinar, “Bridging Your Leadership Gaps: Strategies to Develop Your Leaders”