As part of Brandon Hall’s Analyst Insight program, it received a recent member question concerning leadership development. The member wanted to know the benefits or disadvantages of creating a GE-style leadership program that takes recent MBA graduates and rotates them through the organization for a year or more with a focus on learning an organization’s culture and succession planning. The idea sounds great—but what works for GE may very well be a disaster for a smaller, less global organization. The real value of looking at case studies or industry examples is not simply for imitation purposes, but rather to identify those nuggets of brilliance that are relevant to your specific organizations situation and context.
Warren G. Bennis, the founding chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California, said, “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born—that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” Although research doesn’t prove the effectiveness of specific programs, many organizations do have leadership development strategies.
If leaders are truly made rather than born, how are you creating new leaders in your organization? Every organization understands the value of leadership, and any employee being led can tell you whether or not their company has effective leadership. The most important thing to understand about great leadership development is that it is not a program. Great leadership development is a strategy and culture.
A leadership development strategy defines the goals and expectations for leaders in your organization. It also defines the key capabilities, competencies, and experiences of a successful leader in your organization. Those definitions drive leadership selection, rewards, and the various supporting development programs. Managed in this strategic way, leadership development becomes more than simple lip service for your organization.
When an organization has defined the strategy and culture for leadership development, then requirements for the supporting development programs become easier to recognize. These requirements generally include:
- Target audiences
- Selection processes
- Program levels
- Learning methodologies
- Key success indicators
- Communication needs
The first step for a company considering a leadership development program is to focus on its target audience. Do you want to create a GE-style program that takes recent MBA graduates and rotates them through the organization for a year or more with a focus on learning an organization’s culture and succession planning? Or do you want to develop a program for your current employees to build their leadership skills in their current positions in a program available to everyone? Review the talent needs of your organization and determine how you find, encourage, and promote successful leaders, then focus on developing those individuals.
Once you determine your audience, create your goals and determine the best way to achieve them. There are many options for delivering leadership programs. Do you want a blended program with online modules, coursework, and videos? Will a two-day, face-to-face workshop fit your needs? Do you want information that is specific to your organization and its culture or do you focus on timeless leadership exercises and ideas useful for anyone in any position at any organization? Even though you are excited about your programs and developing your chosen audience, don’t forget the most important part for success. Successful programs start with a strategy and business value. Your executive leadership team, HR department, and front-line leadership need to be on board and believe the vision and value.
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