Proof of Leadership Blog

Proof of Leadership Blog: developing great leaders

Research about leadership development

 

Having just returned from the premier academic conference on management, the Academy of Management in the USA – around 7,000 people attend, here are some thoughts about leadership development coming from the conference.

And while those of us who work in leadership development practice will recognize all of these elements of impactful leadership development programs, it’s always useful to test against the research.

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Missing focus on leadership development

There were a lot of sessions (around 350) on leadership covering topics like:

  • Ethical Leadership
  • Responsible Leadership
  • Transformational Leadership
  • Authentic Leadership
  • Positive Organisational Leadership
  • Relational Leadership
  • Meaningful Leadership
  • Complexity Leadership
  • The Dark Side of Leadership

BUT

There was a missing focus on leadership development – only a few sessions focused on this billion dollar topic.

So what were the “hot topics” for leadership development?

A number of sessions presented the results of impact analyses across leadership development programs reported in academic journals. The results from a number of these presentations can be encapsulated as:

  • A needs analysis is critical if you want to ensure that learning is transferred
  • Specifying the type of theory that underpins the program design has an impact on results, so this should be identified as part of the program design
  • Leadership development does make a difference to performance on the job and to organisational results both in the short-term and long-term
  • Where mixed methods of development (instruction, practice, group work) are used, there is increased learning transfer back to work
  • Where experiential learning methods are used, there are increased organisational results
  • Sessions that are spaced out over time deliver better organisational results
  • Sessions that are longer than 24 hours have a significantly larger impact on behaviour, social and emotional results
  • Face to face and multiple development sessions support increased transfer back to work and long-term organisational results
  • The type of theory used as the basis of development affected results – transactional/contingency theory provided an immediate effect after the program ended but transformational type leadership theory had better long-term effect on organisational results
  • The practical application to work of the program elements delivers both on the job and organisational results
  • Even some time after completion, leadership development programs still continue to deliver leadership behavioural change and organisational results
  • Who you choose to deliver the program is critical – they need to meet the objectives of the program
  • High Potential and Senior Leader programs are different and need both different approaches to development as well as different practitioner to deliver.

Note:

These items reflect notes taken at a number of sessions and have been collated across these sessions

 

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Increasing complexity is changing how we develop leaders

21st century organisations operate in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable environment with intractable challenges for which there is no single ‘right’ solution[i].

In this context, leaders are faced with a work environment characterised by high levels of complexity and change requiring exceptional levels of personal maturity, people leadership and change agility[ii].

At the same time there are increasing expectations and demands of leaders in business and in the broader political and social context. Where are the good leaders to come from? How are they to be educated and supported in their work? And what are the core capabilities they need to be successful? [iii]

Primary leadership capabilities for complexity

Research and experience indicates these capabilities include:

  • ensuring delivery of enterprise-wide performance and the culture to support it
  • developing the relationship skills and acumen required to influence, negotiate and collaborate with stakeholders effectively
  • building capacity to deal with ambiguity, complexity and uncertainty
  • strengthening self-insight and emotional regulation as a foundation for development
  • understanding leadership styles and identity, and when to shift these to more effectively lead
  • developing capacity to monitor and challenge personal and others’ mindsets and behaviours [iv]
  • focusing on managing energy to support team performance and development[v].

 Addressing these challenges: developing leaders and leadership

To address these challenges, development needs to focus not only on individual capability but also organisational capability[vi].

Leadership development can no longer be simply described as an individual characteristic or capability but rather as a collective or group activity using a relational, strategic global and complex social dynamic[vii].

How to take action?

The next time you’re creating a leadership program, it’s useful to consider your program objectives – should you be focusing only on development of each individual, or should you also be building capability to build performance of the organisation in complexity.

[i] _O’Connell, P. K. 2013. A simplified framework for 21st century leader development. The Leadership Quarterly, Article in Press, 1-21.

[ii] Allen, S. J. & Middlebrooks, A. (2014). The challenge of educating leadership expertise. Journal of Leadership Studies, 6, 84-89.

[iii] Van Velsor, E. (2008). A Complexity Perspective on Leadership Development. Complexity Leadership Part 1: Conceptual Foundations. M. Uhl-Bien and R. Marion. Charlotte, North Carolina, Information Age Publishing Inc. 1: 333-346.

   [iv] Bunker, K. A., Kram, K. E., & Ting, S. (2002). The young and the clueless. Harvard Business Review, 80(12), 80–87.

[v] Cherry, Nita. 2015. Energising Leadership Oxford University Press

[vi] Day, D. V., Fleenor, J. W., Atwater, L. E., Sturm, R. E. & Mckee, R. A. 2014. Advances in leader and leadership development: A review of 25years of research and theory. The Leadership Quarterly, 25, 63-82

[vii] Uhl-Bien, M. & Marion, R. 2008. Introduction: Complexity Leadership-A Framework for Leadership in the Twenty-First Century. In: Uhl-Bien, M. & Marion, R. (eds.) Complexity Leadership Part 1: Conceptual Foundations. Charlotte, North Carolina: Information Age Publishing Inc.

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Measuring the impact of leadership development – 4 Steps

4stepsforimpactYou are only 4 steps away from measuring the impact of your leadership development program

This article outlines what I’ve learnt about measuring the impact of leadership development both from experience and from reviewing the research.

While most people say measurement is important, only around 3% of organisations globally measure the results achieved through leadership development and the impact on organisational outcomes. [i].

For a full background to the changes in leadership development that are influencing how to measure leadership development impact, please go to our Articles page.

Measuring leadership development impact

These four steps are drawn from experience, together with a review of the academic research and program evaluation case studies. The questions, within each step of the process, support measuring the impact of leadership development beyond the level of individual participant to include results for the organisation:

  1. embedding measurement into the design of the development from the beginning;
  2. establishing program learning goals so that learning activities clearly contribute to individual and organisational change and results;
  3. developing a robust measurement methodology creating multiple points of evidence at the same time as recognizing the reality of organisational life; and
  4. reporting results to the people who have sponsored, supported and been a part of the development both celebrates the outcomes and provides accountability for their investment in the program.

4 Steps – designing your impact measurement strategy

1. Embed measurement into the design of the development activity
Key questions to consider during the design of a leadership program or development activity are:

  • What are the metrics that will tell the organisation that the program has been successful?
  • How will this program contribute to the organisation’s outcomes and strategy?
  • How will the program deliver on the organisation’s HR strategy?
  • Who are the key stakeholders for this impact measurement strategy?
  • How does the program fit with the overall leadership capabilities required for this organisation?
  • What are the assumptions underlying the design of the program and how will the design contribute to these objectives [ii]

These questions contribute to the development of robust program objectives, reflecting what the organisation is aiming to achieve, right from the early phases of the program design.

This is one of the most difficult stages of measuring impact – these questions are not easy to answer and may feel frustrating when stakeholders ‘just want to get the program going’.

2. Establish program learning goals
At this stage, program developers should be asking:

  • How will this program support participants to build their capability and to deliver on the organisation’s strategy?
  • What are the most effective learning activities that will ensure these learning goals are achieved?
  • How will these learning activities build on each other to deliver impact?

The temptation is to focus on the instruments, methods and tools that support development such as 360 degree feedback, executive coaching, digital learning, and specific learning models. However, bolting these together without considering how they support learning doesn’t deliver a well-designed and impactful program.

3. Develop a program measurement methodology
Embedding measurement into the learning design means asking:

  • What data will be needed to measure these program objectives?
  • Which measurement methods will help identify the required changes in knowledge or behaviour?
  • What is the cost of undertaking these measurement methods?
    What is the best timing for collecting data?
  • How will this data contribute evidence of the link to the program objectives?
  • How will the data be used to support iterative learning design, participant learning and engagement with program stakeholders?
  • What else is happening in the organisation that may affect the data collection or results?
  • While being founded in the rigour of research, methods for measurement of impact also have to be balanced with the relevance of organisational life and must be pragmatic.

It’s also important to identify whether the resulting data can be integrated, analysed and reported in a timely way to tell the story of the impact of the program for key stakeholders.

4. Report the results
In this stage, understanding who the program stakeholders are is crucial, as this guides reporting and insights:

  • What is the data saying about the program results when measured against the program objectives and learning goals?
  • Who needs to be involved in reviewing the data and in identifying insights?
  • What are the key insights: what is the analysis showing or not showing about the program impact for participants, their teams, their direct line managers, and for the enterprise more broadly?
  • What are the recommendations for change arising from the evaluation results and key insights?

Taking action: translating leadership development into impact

Understanding the impact of leadership development programs is crucial in an economic environment where organisations are under increasing pressure.

Learning and development programs are often the first to be cut in these circumstances yet there is significant evidence to demonstrate that investing in the ongoing development of leaders is essential to organisational success.

Understanding the impact and effectiveness of development is foundational in identifying what has been achieved and also what can be achieved, and it’s time that more than 3% of organisations use more effective approaches to measurement than “happy sheets”.


References

[i] McGonagill, G & Pruyn, P W. 2010 Leadership development in the US: Principles and Patterns of Best Practice, Bertelsmann Stiftung Leadership Series

[ii] Packard, T and Jones, L. 2015. An outcomes evaluation of a leadership development initiative. Journal of Management Development Vol 34, No 2 pp 153-168

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