What does best practice leadership development look like?

If I were the person in charge of the organisational budget for leadership development I’d be paying through gritted teeth most of the time. Too often I see programmes pitched as intense 2 or 3-day sessions where people are expected to go in as emerging execs and come out the other side as fully fledged leaders. This is an impossible task and contrary to the way adults really acquire new skills.

Only through repeated practice and regular feedback can we develop and hone complex new skills. This is true for almost any skill: from concert piano to gymnastics. Break the task down into smaller components, repeat them over and over, absorb the feedback from those more advanced, and slowly build an advanced repertoire of linked abilities.

Leadership falls into this category too. Leading effectively is a complex set of skills, not one trait or something that you’re born with or not.

Of course, there are arguments about what the core skills of leadership are, but most agree that Visioning, Collaboration, Listening, Motivating, Resilience, and Communication are pretty important. All of these are complex skills, and complex skills such as these need to be developed and shaped from the ground up through repeated use.

But without the opportunity to try and fail, and try again with new insight, such skills will forever remain theory only.

For this reason, we advocate the following best-practice structure for leadership development programmes.

  1. They need to be run over an extended period. At least 6 months to a year, depending on how ambitious they are and how many skills are being developed.
  2. Learner leaders meet for some period (say a day every 2 weeks) to focus on one key skill. They cover that key skills in depth, have time for some practical exploration of it, and are given homework to use new skills several times before the next session
  3. New sessions commence with feedback on the shaping of previously learned skills. Learner leaders share their experiences and facilitators suggest enhancements and refinements. In every session, substantial time is devoted to discussing the implementation of accumulated skills. If possible, mentors or coaches are assigned to give learner leaders additional support and guidance.
  4. We recommend daily (or at least regular) journaling of the leadership journey. This allows learner leaders to reflect on their progress, capture their concerns for later discussion, and also keep a record of their maturing skills
  5. Managers of learner leaders need to be well informed of the ongoing sessions, their content, the homework and the issues facing the participants. As custodians of the learner leaders, they need to allow them the required space to practice and fail as well as provide them with encouragement to continue.
  6. The cohort of the programme and the facilitators should meet regularly as a support group for the learner leaders. Monthly meetings for a few hours to compare notes, offer encouragement and refine techniques are crucial in the post-programme phase. It takes substantial energy to maintain the gains of complex skills, and many programmes are neglectful in offering some form of continued support.
  7. Make use of learning technology to reinforce information between sessions. Online E-learning modules are an excellent supplement to offline sessions. They allow for on-tap expertise and support of acquired skills.

There are gross short-cuts that can be taken in developing leaders. While a quick learning experience will allow the company to tick the box that development took place, it will likely fall far short of the expectations. The results will almost certainly be hugely disappointing.

Our best-practice guidelines can be shaped in many ways, but the principles described above will go a long way to ensuring that your nascent leaders receive the proper development. It will also ensure that they are far more adept than those attending one-shot workshops.

If you’d like to know more about how Omnicor can help you develop leaders, visit our Leadership page by clicking here.