Are you getting the results you want from your leadership program? Or are you throwing money away? Perhaps you need to take off your blinders. Here’s a short case study on the challenges of building leadership.
A mid size bank wanted to find out whether their top leaders were more effective than those at lower levels. The findings were surprising. Only two of the 45 managers surveyed met the criteria for leadership effectiveness. And these two leaders were as far from the corporate office as you could imagine. They were both managing small rural branches, had limited organizational responsibilities and were not considered top talent.
What was going on here? It seems that the typical response to managers who were willing to challenge the norms and who stirred things up was:
“Oh those folks, for the most part, self-select out of the bank. And if they don’t, we just park them where they won’t cause too much trouble!”
That’s why these two outstanding leaders were both ‘parked’ or ‘in the boondocks’.
This bank was, at the same time, investing thousands of dollars in leadership development. They had clearly defined the desired behaviors of their leaders such as challenging the status quo, speaking the truth and doing things in new ways. But, you wonder, if they were really ready to walk this talk.
All too often I come across executive teams who intuitively know they need their managers to become strong leaders. With high hopes, they invest considerable time and resources into a leadership development. These high potential managers come out of the program enthused and raring to go. But when they try to show their newly developed skills, they get either ignored or worst squashed.
Again, what’s going on here? Most likely, their managers start feeling uncomfortable with the new behaviors; they begin to question the the cost or even the initial results. Then response by HR or the executive team becomes:
“We’re taking a breather to tweak it a bit”" or “We just put in the new computer system and everyone needs the time too get their hands around it” or “It’s our busiest time of the year, let’s wait until things slow down.”
You probably know the outcome: the program gets shelved and now it’s time to start looking for the next leadership guru or fad.
If you truly want to develop future leaders for your organization:
- Make sure senior management take an active role in every leadership development initiative. They can be guest speakers, mentors and even designers of the program. Their support must be visible, genuine and ongoing.
- Define leadership success in terms of behaviors and results. If we want future leaders to “challenge the status quo”, what would they be doing? How would they manage their people and projects? How would their manager manage them?
- Examine your present culture and figure out which elements facilitate specific leadership behaviors – and which might get in the way. For example, do we reward or punish those who question how we do do things around here or bring new ideas to the table?
- Provide support, feedback and coaching as these new or emerging leaders start implementing the key behaviors taught in the program. It’s been my experience that effective leadership development is not an event, a workshop or seminar; it’s a process of behavior change that takes time, personal commitment and positive reinforcement.
Smart Moves Tip:
Many executives do not take culture into account as they devise plans and strategies for developing leaders. One reason for this neglect is the difficulty that most people, including the top leaders, have in recognizing their own organizational cultures. But failing to acknowledge the crucial role culture plays in supporting or hindering the growth of strong leaders can be costly. Also see Culture: What Stories Are You Telling? and On the Road to Abilene.