Leadership Development in 2008

We have found six best practices common to highly successful leadership development initiatives.

Leadership development continues to be one of the fastest-growing areas of corporate training. Spanning programs from management training to executive development and cultivating high potentials, leadership development consumes almost 25 percent of all corporate training dollars. Today’s emphasis on building the leadership pipeline makes this investment more important than ever.

After two years of research, we have found six best practices common to highly successful leadership development initiatives.

1. Strong executive engagement: The most important practice of all is to obtain the engagement of top leaders and managers. Their commitment means that the program will be highly regarded, aligned with corporate strategy and focused on the right business issues. At Textron, the top leadership team participates in each major element of the leadership development program.

2. Tailored leadership competencies: Successful leadership development programs are based on identified leadership competencies. By isolating and agreeing upon leadership competencies most important to your business, you will have the foundation for leadership development, as well as succession planning, career development and other talent-related processes. All high-impact programs we’ve studied are built on well-established leadership competency models.

3. Alignment with business strategy: Leadership development is far more than management training. As leaders move up in the organization, their skills must shift from people and project management to strategic business and operations management. Organizations such as Agilent, Aetna and Cisco focus heavily on company-specific business strategies in their leadership programs. Such programs cannot be totally comprised of off-the-shelf content. Furthermore, leadership development programs must be included in business conversations and planning. At New York Mellon, the top 10 executives meet quarterly to review the efforts of the leadership development group and how it is supporting the company’s current business initiatives.

4. Target all levels of leadership: While the term “leadership” may not seem to apply to first-line managers, we find that high-impact programs have elements that apply to every level of management. At Shell, line managers participate in a program called Shell Life, which includes basic training in coaching, change management, delegation and development. Functional managers participate in a program that focuses on business leadership, business management, vision and other leadership qualities. Also, top business leaders are involved in a third program, which focuses on Shell’s business management and uses external education and consultants to train top global leaders.

5. Apply a comprehensive and ongoing approach: No sound leadership development program consists solely of an instructor-led training event. Programs must include developmental assignments, 360-degree assessments, meetings with global counterparts, case studies, external education and a wide variety of e-learning and other media to give leaders a complete experience. People learn to lead by doing, so the best leadership development programs focus heavily on experiential learning.

6. Integrate with talent management: To build a sustainable leadership pipeline, organizations must implement programs to assess leadership potential (part of the performance management process), identify successors to existing leaders and place these individuals into the right development programs as part of the company’s regular business practices. In fact, one of the biggest indicators of a first-class leadership development program is a set of established practices and a corporate culture that encourages development throughout the enterprise.

Those companies with weak leadership pipelines could well suffer in the years ahead, when talent grows increasingly scarce. I encourage you to think about leadership development initiatives and these six practices as you plan for 2008.