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9 ways to design valued and brilliant leadership development programs

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Designing leadership development strategically

About brilliance

There really isn’t much written about how to design and facilitate great leadership development activities, so I’m interested in capturing what has really worked over 20 years of working with more than 10,000 leaders, and of course in working on my PhD which is focused on leadership development practice.

Here are some emerging approaches to leadership development, integrated with some old but good development strategies. When integrated well, they can ramp up leadership capability shift and value to both participants and their organization.

If you would like to talk more, please contact me: amanda@proofofleadership.com

Amanda

1. Leaders need to experiment

Design thinking is increasingly popular, and the idea of human centered design and “experiments” to test ideas with clients and employees can be adapted to leadership development. Having leaders undertake low risk, low cost leadership and behavior change experiments is proving to be incredibly valuable for our approach to development.

2. Leaders need feedback

We mostly mess up feedback – it’s outsourced to surveys and responsibility for results is targeted at the survey process, instead of the feedback givers and the individuals involved. Creating structured feedback that can help people identify strengths and shift out of blindspots is crucial, particularly early in life, as is owning the results.

3. Leaders develop across time

We all know this, but challenging the current drive for leadership “events” and shallow dives into development is difficult. It is clear that leadership development is more effective where it is “multilevel and longitudinal” rather than on short-term or one-off leadership events[ii] and taking a long-term perspective helps deliver on the 70 of the 70/20/10 if designed well:

  • these approaches ensure the development of enterprise capability and collaboration
  • learning over time also supports learning at work which supports the gradual development of self-efficacy, leadership confidence and identity, interpersonal and intrapersonal processes through giving time to trial new behaviours and reflect on what may be changing
  • this type of development requires sophisticated leadership development design as well as highly experienced facilitation of development and methodologies to support challenge and transfer of learning to work.

4. Leaders need cognitive development

The Centre for Creative Leadership’s Nick Petrie[iii] proposes two distinct areas to focus on to support the development of leaders, following in the footsteps of Robert Kegan and of course Bill Torbert:

  • horizontal development: the transfer technical skills needed for well-defined issues and solutions
  • vertical development: taking leaders to the next stage of cognitive development which will allow a shift in mindset, a broader strategic focus, and engagement with ambiguity.

5. Leaders mindsets are important

Cognitive neuroscience offers ways of new thinking about leadership development including: neuroplasticity; mental habits; mindsets and how the mind works. It can particularly assist leaders with:

  • understanding and changing mindset habits
  • responding to values and ethical challenges
  • decision-making and problem solving
  • collaborating with and influencing others[v][vi].

6. Development needs to be real

Business focused action learning helps explore and resolve critical challenges and opportunities for the organization at the same time as enhancing leadership development and self-awareness[iv]. This is a very intensive boost to development when done well. Leadership development cubed!

7. Reflection accelerates behaviour change

The need to take action and be seen to be taking action is the major driver for leaders in many organisations. So reflection is mostly counter-cultural, but my research into impact indicates it’s one of the program design elements that most supports leaders in making behavioural change[i].

Reflective learning when integrated into development design, requires each individual to explore “how” as well as “what” they are learning. This supports acceleration of the development of not only the individual but also the enterprise and organization.

8. Strengths are often ignored

Positive organisational psychology suggests that leadership development benefits from moving from a purely deficit approach – what needs to be fixed. There is a lot of debate about this, but from my own practice in executive coaching and program design, people rarely focus on their own or others strengths.

And this approach is incredibly valuable to help people:

  • build on strengths that are already in place
  • use leadership development to instigate positive cycles of change
  • support the interpersonal aspects of leadership development[vii]

9. Leadership development value isn’t measured

Measuring value isn’t about ROI. It’s about each person understanding what the value of the program or development has been for them. And about capturing what has changed for both individuals the organization, along with “investors” – those who are funding, supporting and designing the activity.

Little is done about measurement in the leadership development industry. Mostly people rely on how it went on the day – and often on how the facilitator went on the day. This is fraught with danger. Learning can create discomfort, and probably should create discomfort.

Not measuring can also mean that capabilities developed and strategies put in place over time and in the 70% development frame are totally lost to the organization in its thinking about development and talent.

If you would like to talk more, please contact me: amanda@proofofleadership.com

 

Amanda

 

 

[i] See Bob Dick’s work on Action Learning

[ii] Day, D. V., et al, (2013). Advances in leader and leadership development: A review of 25 years of research and theory. The Leadership Quarterly http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2013.11.004

[iii] Petrie, N. (2011). Future Trends in Leadership Development, The Centre for Creative Leadership www.ccl.org

[iv] McGonagill G. & Pryn, P.W. 2010. Leadership development in the US: principles and patterns of best practice, Bertelsmann Stiftung Brookline, MA, USA, Gutersioh, Germany

[v] Waldman, D. A., Balthazard, P. A., & Peterson, S. J., (2011). Leadership ad neuroscience : can we revolutionise the way that inspirational leaders are identified and developed? Academy of Management Perspectives. (25(1) 66-74.

[vi] See Carol Dweck Mindsets

[vii] Cameron, K. & Spreitzer, G. (Eds) (2012) Oxford handbook of positive organizational scholarship. New York: Oxford University Press.

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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.

AOMleaddevt

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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