You might have been invited to participate in a leadership development program or you may be responsible for developing leaders within your company. The transition from a team member or individual contributor to a leader is difficult.
Leadership development helps organizations transform the talent they have today into the leaders of tomorrow. Companies can’t remain the same. This is even more true as businesses change at a faster pace. Leaders are essential for organizations. They must have the ability to manage people and change, no matter what the business landscape changes, they can still find new opportunities and implement the strategy.
What is a leadership development program?
Leader development programs are a way for companies to invest in their internal growth and prepare high-potential employees for senior positions within the company in the short term. But what we consider to be good leadership qualities and the related skills have evolved. As companies recognize the importance of agility leadership development for a greater range of managers is becoming more important.
What should you expect from the program?
Although each company may have a different program, there are some elements that can be used to build leadership skills. These elements include access to and exposure to current management, an individual group for peer support, shared learning, mentorship, and formalized mentorship. Employees can grow and still have to balance their responsibilities in the current business by having a clear structure.
However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that leadership development and growth are personal and require a customized approach. Good leadership development programs should be flexible enough to meet people where they are at the moment and offer the support they need to overcome the unpredictable challenges they face.
Context is critical
Leader development must focus on the skills and experiences that are most relevant to the organization’s immediate future. This is what smart organizations understand. The challenges of today will be different from tomorrow due to changing business goals and a constantly evolving competitive landscape.
An McKinsey article that examines why some leadership programs fail reminds us of the importance of understanding context to understand what kind of leadership we need.
What are the most likely challenges that the company will face? What are the most important skills that the company’s leaders need to succeed? The program should be expanded to include negotiation and sales skills if the company is looking to acquire new clients or partners. Increasingly, evidence suggests that “soft” skills such as communication and relationship-building or abilities such as empathy and compassion are most relevant to the challenges of moving through uncertainty and unpredictability.
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How leadership development programs benefit the entire company
Why is it important for companies to have a leadership development program? Companies must plan for leadership development in order to have competent people at the helm. This is especially true for those who have been involved with the company for a while, and are familiar with its internal workings. It is easier to develop your own leaders than it is to hire someone from outside, especially when the timing is tight.
It can be easy for people to forget that leadership development programs have a far greater impact than their intended purpose. These ripples are beneficial to the company in many areas.
Improving the bottom-line
Companies with leadership development programs are more likely to have a positive impact on their bottom line. There are many factors that can have a financial impact on your bottom line. One is simply that there are more people in the company who are prepared to tackle business challenges and can understand high-level strategic issues.
You’ll also be able to reduce turnover costs. Employees will know that their managers have made an investment in them. They are more likely to stay because they have the opportunity to grow and there are roles they can play.
Moreover, increased productivity is a positive factor in company financials. Employees who feel valued and can see a bright future for their company will be more productive. They are more likely to be involved in their work and thus motivate others towards greater productivity.
Attract, develop and retain talent
Companies looking to hire are attracted by a leadership development program. It can be frustrating and time-consuming to change organizations in order to achieve the growth you desire. Candidates will find it more attractive to apply if they know that the organization will invest in their future leaders.
Organizations can expect to see an increase in retention for similar reasons. Many employees quit their job because they don’t feel like they’re learning anything new. They don’t have the chance to apply their knowledge in a new position. Leadership development programs are an official commitment to help top-tier workers not only increase their skills but also find new roles within the company where they can apply these skills in long-term roles.
Drive strategy execution
Any leadership development program should include a component that teaches you how to master strategic execution. An organization will have more talented workers who can turn goals into action. They’ll also be able to develop team members that are skilled at influencing people across non-direct lines of reporting. These leaders will be able to set quarterly and annual goals and then break them down into manageable tasks, and perhaps even more important, they know how to mobilize workers across multiple teams to achieve outstanding results.
Do not underestimate the power of a well-designed program to foster deeper connections within the company. Organizations are able to rely on their loose, but strong connections for unexpected events. You can better understand and respond to the situation
Increase success in navigating change
Organizations that anticipate industry shifts will find it useful. This core leadership skill can be doubled and could prove to be a great investment. Even if you think the future is going to be smooth, changes are always possible. Leadership is the ability to navigate new territory while still maintaining authority, and respect, and maintaining high morale is key to making it out the other side safe and sound.
The pandemic of 2020 and the tumult that followed have shown that leaders who are quick and flexible and can bring everyone aboard to new ways to work have been more successful than ever in weathering the Covid-19 storm. It is also important to be ready to respond to industry disruptions. Consider how Netflix has changed the game for video rental businesses like Blockbuster. For a company to survive long-term, it will need a leader capable of navigating such fierce intra-industry competition.
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What are the most important elements of a leadership development program?
Although each company should tailor its leadership development program to meet the challenges and opportunities of its future, there are some building blocks that can be used for all businesses. Below, we’ll discuss each one.
It’s essential to have a mentor or coach for every person in your leadership development program. They can have access to the top management and gain a better understanding of the day-to-day activities of the company’s leaders. Coaches also offer a safe place for employees to ask questions and bounce ideas off one another, especially as program participants begin to explore the type of job they want to in.
Without the right support, skill development for a position so vague as “leadership” can seem overwhelming. Employees can be helped by coaches, or small support groups that grow together, to identify the direction they want to go. They allow them to get a better understanding of the skills and potential ways they can add value to their company.
Management must learn how to hold their teammates accountable and not micromanage, and to take responsibility for their actions. Both are interrelated, and the former greatly benefits from the latter.
A strong sense of accountability is essential for leaders, especially when you are publicly visible and face stronger repercussions for any missteps. This creates a culture of accountability. It’s easier to ensure that everyone feels a sense o responsibility to do their job and to voice concerns when necessary. It is difficult to balance the need for accountability and safety while encouraging everyone to explore innovative ideas. But it is something that every leader should have in their toolbox.
Change in business is inevitable, whether it’s a company reorganization or layoffs, or a pivotal change in the overall strategic direction. Leaders must be able to understand how to move the business forward and make sure that everyone is included in the process.
Traditional change management involved setting the right tone and defining the process. Then, it was about communicating to ensure smooth execution. Change management is now more about giving more people the ability to shape and define the changes they need, rather than imposing a rigid plan from the top.
Influence and negotiation
Leaders need soft skills. Perhaps the most important soft skill is the ability to influence others, especially across reporting lines. Negotiating in a way that creates value and benefits each party is two of these skills. Leaders are still part of the team, despite having greater responsibility and accountability. Their actions and those of their teams reflect back on them directly. Influencing and negotiation can lead to disastrous outcomes for unskilled employees, and create negative feelings. There are still opportunities for value creation and win-win situations.
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Communication takes on a new meaning when you are a leader. Leaders communicate a sense of power and direction that is imbued in their words. Their impact is greater than it was when they were just individual contributors. Leaders must be clear and precise, avoiding misinterpretation. They also need to communicate clearly to set the tone. You must also learn to balance respect and approachability. This is not easy without a dedicated effort to improve communication skills. You might consider using the company’s internal communication team to create thought leadership that relays messages directly from leaders.
Milestones and goals
Clear milestones are important for program participants. They keep everyone on track and help management gauge the program’s success. It is important to instill the understanding and skills of future leaders regarding how to measure company and team success. If you make a goal too difficult, no one will be motivated to achieve it. If it’s too easy, no one will feel challenged. Your organization won’t move as fast and far as it could. A strong leadership trait is an ability to create measurable and achievable goals while still maintaining an element or aspiration. This strategy is essential for any leadership development program.
In addition to all the above elements, think about the specific skills that your company may need over the next few years. You should not focus on general skills-building, which can be overwhelming for many. Your leadership development program should emphasize the traits that will best prepare your organization for the future.