Whether you’re new to the idea of implementing leadership development programs or well-versed in all the options available to you, you may still wonder: what is the best way to get the most out of a leadership development program?
Successful leadership development programs are about more than just the specifics of a program. You can choose the most expensive, elaborate, or detailed program and send all your leaders and future leaders through it—and still struggle to get actual results from your leadership team. While choosing a program to meet specific needs and achieve specific goals is essential, you must have the right approach and philosophy behind your initiatives to get a real, measurable impact.
To get the most out of your leadership development program, pay attention to these three things that work—and three that don’t!
Three Things That Work in Leadership Development
1. Connect Initiatives to Real-Life Experiences
Leaders need three kinds of learning to develop fully: experiential, relationship, and formal. About 70% of development should be experiential—learning through experience and practice.
As much as possible, connect your leadership development initiatives to real organizational needs and experiences. Use the challenges you already have to create stretch assignments and craft projects that give your people opportunities to put their learning into practice. Create cohorts to tackle specific challenges, obstacles, or projects and tie those to specific items on each person’s Individual Action Plan. By connecting the learning to real-life experience and specific IAP goals, participants will be more likely to fully integrate learning into practice.
2. Make It a Process, Not An Event
Sending the message that leadership development is a one-time thing can communicate that there comes a point when the work is “done” or that all a leader has to do is check a box to fulfill an obligation. In reality, leadership development that produces results is an ongoing process. Companies should foster a culture of learning and growth that sees development as something ongoing and a part of continually improving.
3. Create a Community
The best programs are those that create a community of peers who are learning together, supporting each other, and helping each other apply learnings as they grow. Putting together an official cohort for a project or a team for group coaching is one way to create community, but informal community is also key. Leaders and employees who encourage each other to take advantage of learning opportunities will help create a company where everyone is improving leadership skills.
Three Things That Don’t Work in Leadership Development
1. Overly Focusing on a Single Event
Whether you put emphasis on an offsite retreat or training session or on some other event such as a one-time project or ad hoc committee assignment, it’s a mistake to take a single event as evidence that a program has “worked” or “not worked.” Successfully completing one event or project doesn’t always mean the leader is able to apply learnings to other areas, just as performing poorly in one event or project doesn’t mean the employee is unable to learn leadership skills. Start each initiative with goals, track the goals, and then use the learnings that are valuable to help the leader prepare for future development and roles.
2. Proceeding Without Senior Leader Alignment and Support
When senior leadership isn’t aligned and supportive of development initiatives, those initiatives rarely have great success. Start by making sure that programs and initiatives are aligned with the strategic goals of the company and the senior leadership team. When leadership development is aligned with established goals, senior leaders will be more likely to champion initiatives. Once you have a senior leader behind you, be sure to communicate progress and results to help ensure future support.
3. Ignoring the Wisdom and Experience of Participants
Don’t get too committed to specific, canned answers, responses, or results in any given program or initiative. Remember, your participants will bring their own wisdom and experience to the development initiatives. Each participant will have insights, suggestions, and solutions that program directors or upper-level leaders didn’t anticipate. Foster psychological safety by encouraging participants to share their wisdom and experience. This is part of leadership, and it may be that these insights improve results overall.
Leadership development is more than just training. It’s about creating a pool of adaptable, creative, and holistic leaders who can help improve performance and create a culture that drives business results. Focusing less on specific programs or events and more on long-term learning and ongoing development with leadership support will give your development initiatives a better chance for success.
- Is there one way I can better tie development to real-life scenarios?
- Are senior leaders supportive of our leadership development initiatives? Why or why not?
- What is one way I can better encourage an environment of learning or a growth mindset?