When a Learning & Development (L&D) Specialist sits with business leaders to talk about their interest in leadership development, it’s not uncommon for the conversation to sound like this:
L&D Specialist: So, why is leadership development on your mind?
CEO: It’s important to invest in our people.
L&D Specialist: I certainly agree. What do you want to accomplish through leadership development?
CFO: Employees are excited about it. They come to the sessions. It’s good stuff.
L&D Specialist: You bet. What would you want people to be better at after being part of a leadership development program?
CEO: They are more effective leaders.
CFO: They communicate better. They are better listeners.
CEO: So, do you know of some classes we can offer?
L&D Specialist: I know of great classes and other learning options as well. Our best outcomes will come when we know upfront the specific changes we are seeking. Maybe we can first work on determining our leadership competencies, and evaluating the gap between current and desired performance of these competencies?
CEO: Everyone’s really busy. Let’s just get something going. Our competitors have had this kind of program for a while now. See what you can find and bring me some ideas.
L&D Specialist: What’s the budget you were thinking of?
CEO: I don’t know. Depends on what you bring me. Thanks.
Could you feel the tension in this conversation? The L&D Specialist is working hard to see the vision of the CEO and CFO, or even help them clarify their vision. The leaders, however, just want activities to happen. They may even grow frustrated with the L&D Specialist’s questions. Meanwhile, the Specialist may feel set up to fail because the desired outcomes and specs are so limited.
So, where do they go from here?
Even with very limited direction as shown here, the L&D Specialist could assemble a meaningful leadership development program with a focus on engaging participants, enhancing self-awareness, adding and practicing specific skills, and then reinforcing learning.
Sounds simple, but what would that really LOOK like? Below is a full explanation, or take a shortcut and see a 2-year plan.
Set the foundation
Hold a kickoff event with participants and senior leadership.
This can be a simple gathering over lunch or at the end of the workday and there are lots of ways to be creative with this in ways that fit your company culture. It’s key that three things happen:
Enhance self-awareness through a behavioral assessment.
My tool of choice is Everything DiSC because it supports independent learning (even self-generated comparison reports) and provides highly engaging training materials and meaningful reports that drive behavioral change.
Establish the basics.
Vital Learning’s Essential Skills of Leadership and Essential Skills of Communication take participants through hands-on activities focused on 8 skills that are critical for all leaders in all settings. A model for healthy communication is also introduced, and this model is widely applicable in personal and professional situations.
Require participants to articulate their learning. Ideally this ties back to the goal they identified as part of the kickoff. They should identify 1-3 “ah ha” moments and offer 1-3 behavior or attitude shifts they will commit to, and how they will work on these.
This information can be captured in a video message (participant records on their phone and sends to the facilitator and supervisor), shared in closed LinkedIn/Facebook group for the cohort/company/class, submitted in writing to the facilitator…whatever is easiest for the learning. Commitment should also be shared with the other participants – this drives accountability and real change.
Review learnings and promote accountability. You could hold short follow-up sessions over lunch, or do individual or small-group coaching. Ask participants to report back on their progress and provide support for continuing to move forward. Involve the managers of the participants if possible.
Gather input on “what next.” What is important to participants and senior leadership? Navigating change? Handling conflict? Coaching performance? Ideally, the approaches for these areas are based on what was put forth when establishing leadership basics, rather than introducing even more lists and models. (The Vital Learning curriculum does this brilliantly!)
Now, that was a lot of explanation, but again, I promise that this is simple. Check out the sample 2-year program if you haven’t already done so.
Especially as our service-based economy increases and unemployment decreases, keeping good talent and supporting their performance is paramount. These leadership skills don’t emerge overnight. But even a simple strategy supported by general best practices (check out 5 Keys for Learning Initiatives) can bring about a transformation in a company’s productivity, financial performance, and culture.