Thursday, August 6, 2009

Developing the Next Generation of Leaders (Part 2)

If your firm wants to secure effective leadership for the future, you need to be deliberate about it and not leave it to the usual process of "natural selection." In my first post in this series, I suggested a three-prong approach: (1) choose the right people, (2) establish a formal process, and (3) create a supportive culture. This post focuses on the second tier of that process.

#2. Establishing a Formal Process

The best leadership development programs combine multiple approaches including training, coaching, group forums, on-the-job exercises, and assigned readings. The following outlines some key elements of an effective leadership development program:

Make it a process, not an event. I suggest a program that extends over 8 to 12 months with multiple activities each month.

Keep it hands on. Don't spend too much time on leadership theory. Make it practical and directly applicable to the real-life situations that participants are facing.

Use ongoing coaching. This is critical. Research reveals that skills training is only effective when combined with ongoing feedback and encouragement. Ideally coaches will come from your own staff. But if you don't have people with the requisite skills or commitment, look for outside help. (See my earlier post on coaching.)

Incorporate self assessments. Various testing and survey instruments can be used to enable participants to define their natural competencies, leadership and communication styles, attitudes, knowledge, and progress over the course of the program. One of the key attributes of effective leaders is a keen self awareness.

Tailor the program specifically to your firm. Beware of canned leadership development programs. Your firm's culture and practices will impact how leadership is exercised effectively within your organization. Participants will also tend to dismiss any leadership training that does not specifically fit their situation and experiences.

But seek some outside help. To avoid simply reinforcing the status quo, you should get some outside consulting help. The amount depends on your budget, internal resources, and objectives. The external perspective, credibility, and objectivity of a consultant can add significant value to your program.

Demand significant commitment. To do this right requires some sacrifice, both on the part of the firm and the participants. Define in advance what the firm and management is willing to invest in leadership development. Then clarify expectations for participants and invite them to opt out at the outset if they're not willing or able to devote the effort.

Program content. There are many directions you can go with training topics and exercises. Let me suggest that you focus on four specific areas: (1) people and communication skills, (2) time management skills, (3) ability to effect change, and (4) business acumen. Here's a list of possible topics:
  • Leadership styles
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Motivating others
  • Team building
  • Communication skills (including persuasion)
  • Time management
  • Leading change
  • Client skills
  • Business development skills
  • Organizational management skills
  • Enabling leadership in others

Some things to avoid. Once again, there are some common approaches to leadership development programs that I would encourage you to avoid, or at least critically evaluate before committing yourself:

Don't waste your time and money on crash courses and quick fixes. Leadership development is a long-term process. Training seminars and books on leadership are useful tools in an overall program, but don't accomplish much on their own.

Don't take a smorgasbord approach to program content. Some firms bring in multiple speakers or have participants read different books. I'm certainly not against incorporating different perspectives, but I'd urge you to define some common themes and definitions and stick to them. Leadership is a complex topic. Your objective is to simplify it so that participants can better apply it.

Don't use the program to indoctrinate into the status quo. I've touched on this previously and repeat it here because it's a common trap. Clearly, you should seek to replicate the best aspects of your current management. And you want to reinforce the strengths of your values, culture, and practices. But since leadership is about change, you want to be careful about reining in your new leaders too much.

Don't put too much stock in personality typing schemes. Understanding your personality and the differences among people is certainly a valuable skill. But some leadership programs, in my opinion, put far too much emphasis on this aspect of dealing with people. Personality typing schemes are prone to making quick characterizations of people that minimize their individual uniqueness. I've participated in several of these and I've never been that easy to characterize. I assume this is true of many others. There is no substitute for getting to know people as individuals rather than as personality types.

Plus leaders are often dealing with groups of people where tailoring your approach to each personality type is difficult, if not impossible. Among the different approaches, the Myers-Briggs assessment is the most thoroughly researched. But studies also point to abuses of this system, so use it or any other with some restraint.

Don't allow participation and effort to diminish over the course of the program. Given an 8- to 12-month duration, it's natural to see some loss of momentum over time. But isn't one of the traits of effective leaders their ability to keep the effort going over the long term? I'd suggest changing the format, making the material increasingly practical and hands-on, stepping up active coaching, and maybe even taking a month off as ways to avoid a drop-off in interest in the latter months of the program.

In my next post we'll take a closer look at the third prong of an effective leadership development strategy--creating a supportive culture.

1 comment:

  1. There is so much potential in the field of leadership development in the AEC industry. I would love to put together a program for companies to follow and administer it as a consultant. Let me know if you have any ideas.