I must confess I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with leadership development. I was trained right out of the chute (the university chute that is) in Organizational Behavior Management by a pioneer in applied behavioral science. We would teach companies from every industry under the sun how to increase employee productivity, engagement, morale, safety – you name it, using very specific techniques. One thing my mentor would not do, however, was talk about leadership. It was too hard to define, he’d explain, and nobody could really agree on what a leader was. Was it a set of traits? Behaviors? Can it be learned or is it innate? He basically elected to just not go there. And it didn’t really matter, to be honest, because we were able to produce the results people were trying to get through ‘leadership’ and ‘motivation’ without going there.
Not going there is not really an option in today’s climate, however. Most companies aren’t comfortable relying exclusively on the principles of behavioral psychology for their leadership philosophies, nor should they be, in my opinion. Having been on the receiving end of the transformational power of servant leadership done right, I’d be remiss in not emphasizing leadership development as a critical component in building a truly great company. Besides that, most of my clients acknowledge a need for ‘leadership training’.
And here’s where I would caution you. Leadership training is kind of like communication and accountability. A lot of people prescribe it as a solution to a felt problem but it may not solve what you hope it will. Typically, when people want leadership training it’s because of a few different symptoms:
- Turnover is higher than acceptable, and problems with management is cited as a reason people are leaving.
- High growth is anticipated, and there are not enough people experienced to take on new leadership roles.
- Production and profitability are slipping, and management is not able to articulate why.
- Managers themselves have expressed a need or desire for more training.
- Owners are just not comfortable that leaders are where they should be in terms of inspiring, casting a vision and impacting the culture of the company.
All of these are legitimate issues that should be solved, but before investing in leadership development, make sure you’re very clear on your needs and what you’d like to see changed as a result of the leadership development you’re seeking. For example, many of the pain points that result in asking for leadership training are actually issues that can be more effectively resolved through the implementation of solid management systems and processes. If that’s what you really need help with, it’s important to state it.
When I’m asked to conduct leadership training, I look at it as two different mini-projects . First is setting up the leadership program. This includes identifying the leadership behaviors and expectations, determining the promotional process, identifying training and assessment goals and timelines and other program parameters.
Developing the content of the leadership program is a much more customized process, simply because there are so many models to choose from. The qualities and behaviors of the leaders in your company directly impact and are impacted by your vision. If your company DNA is to put the customer first at any cost, your leadership values are going to be slightly different (or maybe dramatically different) than a company who puts employees first. I know that while I try to flex with my clients’ preferences, personal experience as well as research leads me to be heavily biased to a servant leadership approach with most of the content built around the 12 areas of emotional intelligence that Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis define.
Just wanting your managers to ‘be better leaders’ will not be helpful in defining your leadership brand and culture. Some people know what they want based on the best leader they’ve ever had, and some based on the worst. Of course, the developmental stage of the employees is a factor as well.
The point is that as you grow, a more formalized process for hiring, identifying, promoting and training leaders is going to put you at a competitive advantage based on improved retention, higher productivity, and the ability to grow more quickly. However, you need to do some prep work to make sure you are clear about what you really expect from your leaders. It’s also important to invest some necessary time and money in making sure you are solid on managing the behaviors and processes required for success as well.
As always, there’s no magic bullet – unless you count the magic that follows preparation, hard work and follow through!
Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people. With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work. Carrie can be reached for consultation at email@example.com