By Scott Ormerod & Chuck McPherson
A couple of years ago, Alice was identified as a potential leader as part of the nonprofit succession plan. Alice was a program coordinator for the agency serving families. Besides knowing the job very well, Alice always volunteered for additional projects such as the strategic planning committee, the parent committee, or the development of a new program funded by the State. She demonstrated enthusiasm, was a learner, and was driven to serve the organization. When the Program Director, Linda, spoke with Alice about her personal development plan, she discovered that Alice had a lot of ambition and a desire to grow into a leadership role within the agency. What Linda discovered was that the organization had not developed or implemented a leadership development program. Succession planning was even new to the organization. They called Leap Solutions and asked for our help to identify the best practice options for a leadership development program.
As a business management consulting firm, we engage with clients about leadership, what it is, how it shows up within an organization’s culture, and how it is developed. Simply put, leadership is the action of leading a group of people or an organization. Leadership can also be defined by the ability of an individual or a group of people to influence and guide followers or members of an organization, society, or team. Leadership is an attribute tied to a person’s title, seniority, or ranking in a hierarchy (either perceived or real). But do these descriptors really identify what it really is? Absolutely not. How does one even get to be called a leader? Perhaps the perception is that he/she is “a natural born leader” or they develop into becoming a leader, one with high potential. Either way, leadership development is ongoing. Let’s explore these two concepts.
A natural-born leader emerges by seizing opportunities to develop and strengthen their leadership capabilities through challenges, experience, and learning as they engage, explore, and develop their leadership traits. They naturally have leadership capabilities, which they strengthen along their continuous journey. A high-potential, emerging leader builds their capabilities by seizing opportunities focused on self-learning, mentoring, coaching, and experiential leadership tools. While not naturally showing leadership capabilities, their journey continuously builds skills through knowledge, experience, and a willingness to make and learn from their mistakes.
If you desire to build and grow natural-born and high-potential leaders, what is available for this journey? First, identify the desired leadership skills and competencies within the organization and match the needs with identified natural or high-potential emerging leaders. Leadership growth can be achieved formally through training and specific development tools or informally through experiences such as project assignments that stretch their skills.
One of our clients engaged with us to create and implement a leadership development program. Together, we created a multi-year leadership program with an annual cohort of new leaders to participate in a program of coaching and leadership development. Their strategy is developing a deep field of both natural and high-potential emerging leaders. Participants benefit from past program participants while the whole organization benefits from a succession of leadership learners applying their skills. Essentially, the participants are earning their MBA in Leadership internally. The program results impact not only leadership but the bottom line through stronger client relationships, new business opportunities, and a growing network of potential clients. In reality, a small investment is yielding significant results.
To create a strong leadership program, participants benefit from formal and informal training and development activities achieved through various tools and experiences such as:
Mentorship – Internal mentors are critical for all team members as well as creating a leadership development environment. This allows for a multi-level approach to identify mentors at all levels of the organization. The mentor/mentee relationship can be formalized to ensure a meaningful and transformational experience. It supports learning from one another by understanding needed skills, core attributes, and experiences for planned growth. When focused on leadership development, the relationship can evolve around the type of leader the mentee aspires to emulate and what attributes they possess that makes them a leader to admire and understand.
Coaching – Formalizing the development process into a coaching relationship moves the experience from learning from others through relationships and observation to learning of one’s self and identifying development goals. Working with a coach to understand themselves, leads to real-life experiences and learning with a strong balance of introspection. Digging deep allows the coachee to grow and gain leadership skills. The key is setting development goals and holding the coachee accountable for reaching their goals.
Planning and Executing – Being conscious of development opportunities through planning creates the platform for executing. You have to know where you want to head in order to create a plan to get there. Making a conscious effort to plan, set goals, hold yourself accountable, and achieve plan execution sets the path for leadership development and success. A planning leader is able to clearly state the direction he/she is heading and bring others along to achieve the plan.
Leadership Assessments – The world is full of leadership assessments that identify behavioral traits (the foundation of leadership skill identification and utilization), profile strengths (and opportunities), and leadership potential. Pick one or a few to paint the leadership picture. The assessments are valuable as a foundation of what exists and point out the potential and opportunities for leadership development. The more a leader understands themselves, the stronger they will understand others. If you can explore what it might be like to walk in another leader’s shoes, the greater opportunity to understand their profile and what you might want to incorporate or develop within your skill set.
Values and Attributes – Leadership values are anchors or foundations of what makes a leader tick. They create the platform that keeps the leader on point for what is important to them. Along with their key leadership attributes, team members actively understand how they show up, what they can count on, and how they will respond when problems need solutions. Their words and actions are in harmony, and the walk is the talk. Alignment provides consistency of leadership and the ability for others to follow.
Education – The formal aspect of learning has many paths for the developing leader. Masters programs in leadership, certification programs, seminars, and leadership development programs are all potential learning paths.
Informal leadership development happens each day in a growing, learning organization that fosters active participation in skills development through individual experience and experimental learning. A culture that supports informal leadership development encourages taking risks, learning from mistakes, and taking the initiative to grow. In other words, the culture embraces initiative and provides opportunities to match enthusiasm with potential.
We once had a team member who thanked us for allowing them to earn their MBA on the job. We created an environment of formal and informal leadership development that allowed the team member to identify their potential and attain their goal of strengthening their knowledge and actively applying it while serving our clients. It was a win-win strategy of leadership development.
The world is changing, but it still needs great leadership to survive and thrive. Each organization has its own inherent opportunities and can set the culture it desires to develop its leaders. If you are wondering if you have a culture of leadership development, reach out to us and let’s have a conversation.
Are You Ready to Leap?
Leap Solutions is a diverse group of highly skilled management, organizational development, and human resources, and executive search and recruitment professionals who have spent decades doing what we feel passionate about helping you feel passionate about what you do. Our HR specialists can help you get a handle on the ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines, programs, and legislation that may impact you and your employees. We are available to work with you to develop practical solutions and smart planning decisions for your organization’s immediate, near, and long-term needs.
To print this article, Click Here