Time to rethink your leadership development programme

by L&D08 Dec 2016
The traditional leadership development programme relies heavily on intensive internal programmes, expensive executive education, and coaches to mentor high performers moving into key leadership positions.

But according to authors and management experts Milan Samani and Robert J. Thomas, it’s time to overhaul the process and grow leaders “in the midst of pursuing critical business objectives” rather than sending them off for educational programmes and hoping they come back with renewed insights about themselves and the world.

They cited three ways that ‘pioneering’ companies are using in order to retain leaders in today’s fast-paced work environment.

Identify: Let them innovate’
Start by looking  for people who care deeply,” they said at Harvard Business Review.
Take a cue from Barclays Bank and The Walt Disney Company EMEA, they said, where they foster a culture that allows for employees to innovate business offerings to address problems in a way that is personally meaningful.
Internally, each company runs a programme called Social Intrapreneur Challenges where employees are invited to propose ideas for new products the company can use to make a positive impact on society.
At both companies, many millennials have stepped up to the plate and those whose proposals have potential are sent on workshops and receive coaching over a six-month period. They are encouraged to use their peers and bosses as volunteers and to utilise their social networks to discover best practices even in other sectors and industries.
“This is about business outcomes but it’s also about ‘learning-by-doing’ and creating a new breed of talent who is resourceful, versatile, purpose-driven, and stretch beyond their comfort zones,” said Francois Masson, vice president of HR at Disney EMEA.
Develop: Let them improvise’
There isn’t any need to create a whole new set of leadership competencies in order to develop leaders, said Samani and Thomas.
Instead, work with competencies your managers already have and give them the tools to be more self-aware of their competencies.
Unilever’s ‘UL2020’, they said, is a good example of this.
“CEO Paul Polman, an advocate of purpose-driven leadership, launched the program in 2013 in order to grow leaders who would thrive in a world of constant turbulence and change,” they said.
“To his mind, men and women with a good self-understanding and a high regard for followers would prove resilient and open to learning and growing throughout their careers.” 
Retain: Let them actually lead’
Companies who make targeted investments where potential employees are being groomed for leadership positions by allowing them to work on projects of their own choosing that can create more value for the company, tend to develop leaders who are more valuable in the marketplace but are less likely to leave.
“By providing a platform for employees to fulfil their individual potential by finding profitable solutions to big problems they care about, Barclays [for example] developed leaders from within and retained them,” they said, citing the case of their current director of impact investing and how he has been with the company since 2013.
“Based on what we’ve seen over many years of work with companies, methods like these are far superior to traditional leadership development programs for generating leaders who can lead in the world as it is today. You don’t have time to waste – and neither do your future leaders,” they said.

Related stories:
Invest in leadership management, says expert
Transformational leadership traits you really need
From leadership development to business agility