One universal certainty amongst businesses and organizations is the perpetual need for effective leadership. Where a great leader may be able to execute an infinitely complex and challenging business strategy, an ill-equipped leader may fail to implement even the most simple initiatives.
The purpose of a leadership development program is to identify, attract, fill, and retain leadership talent. Leadership development programs focus on hiring strategies, employee development, and career and succession planning.
As simple as they may sound, identifying talent alone is only half the battle. Finding a candidate that displays what are considered great leadership qualities, such as confidence and work ethic, may not always represent the best fit.
The challenge lies in a company or organization’s ability to identify candidates whose leadership qualities also align with their long term strategy. In order to maintain a steady flow of talent, companies must mold their leadership development programs to reflect their long term strategy, values, and culture. The overall goal is to create a stronger pipeline for succession planning.
What Good Leadership Development Programs Do Right
The first step in succession planning is determining who the best candidates are to take up a particular leadership role. Let’s assume that Karina, 43, has 5 years of experience in the Adolescent and Family/Youth Services Division as a social service worker. Karina is extremely talented, and is a great culture fit. Karina, though experienced, has never held a leadership role yet she embodies the mission of her office and is driven to create a bigger impact. How can we evaluate this candidate and determine if she should be fast tracked through a leadership development program?
Being able to accurately evaluate a candidate is crucial before investing in their development. The Harvard Business Review suggests establishing a set of clear and defined leadership competencies to better identify who should enter leadership development training programs.
Simply creating a long list of vague qualities may fail to align with an organization’s needs. Avoid subjective traits like approachability or perceived confidence. Having a set list of competencies can prevent confusion in young managers about what is expected of them.
Finding Success in Leadership Development
An example of this concept can be found in a company like Upwork which specifically develops its leaders based on the company’s long term strategy. As a digital firm, they acknowledge that the most talented developers do not always make the best leaders.
Upwork have developed a two-track system which allows you to either remain a contributor, or pursue leadership. For those who wish to pursue management, the company provides peer coaching and mentoring to help groom young managers quickly. In this instance, Upwork has created an option that allows young leaders to choose their role as opposed to it feeling like a natural progression.
The Value of Identifying Leadership Early
Identifying candidates for leadership positions early is crucial. It is just as important that a candidate’s potential is acknowledged early. This acknowledgement often times can make up for any lack of confidence that may exist within a young manager.
Here are three ways to give early recognition to a candidate:
- Pair potential leaders with mentors and leadership development coaches
- Provide real time feedback
- Continue to sustain and develop the leadership program
Keeping young leaders immersed in the company’s culture, as well as providing leadership training can inspire their vision and elevate their confidence in a way that isolated leadership tasks and short term initiatives can’t.
Where Leadership Development Programs Go Wrong
Leadership development training can fall short in the program's inability to prepare future leaders with real world, workplace situations. Donald Hatter, best selling author and expert on teaching professionals recently described this out of sync approach in Forbes:
“...great leadership is about influence, not authority. When companies fail to recognize this difference, the default is to help people become better managers. The majority of training and support is centered around helping a person become better at completing their assigned tasks. Sometimes there is additional training that helps with communication and teamwork, but not always”.
This decoupling can severely derail the effectiveness of corporate leadership development training programs. One solution is to look outside the company for training programs. Whether you send a group of managers to a leadership conference, enroll them in an intensive workshop, or help pay for an Executive Master of Leadership degree, candidates must remain engaged and focused on their personal growth.
One challenge of maintaining a leadership pipeline is keeping individuals grounded within the company culture and vision. This can be achieved when there is balance between organizational culture and effective leadership development programs.
Sustaining Effective Leadership Programs
Addressing the leadership gap is a challenge that all companies and organizations face. It is often a revolving door of skills, personalities, and inevitable departures of much sought after talent. Accepting the fact that not every candidate is going to be a homerun, leadership development remains an integral component of organizational growth.
Organizations that demonstrate faith in young leaders early and often are more likely to succeed than ones without thorough and sustained plans of succession. Simply throwing a budget at a program does not guarantee results any more than pure talent does. Internal leadership programs must evolve with the company, its culture, and its employees in order to meet the ultimate goal of a steady leadership pipeline.