Are you creating a satisfying leadership development experience?
Through the years, I have mentored and coached more than a few people that expressed frustration with their leadership development journey. It turns out, their vision of learning how to lead didn’t match their experience. Here were some of the common themes:
Aspiring leaders want careers (not jobs) and seek opportunities to advance their careers by taking on leadership roles. But they want to learn how to do this well. The experiences highlighted exhibit the challenges for both the aspiring leader and the person in authority. Responsibility, feedback, and trust are essential for them to develop. Every interaction you have with an aspiring leader is an education for them.
“We expect our managers to develop their people”
Fair, but developing leaders is a different discipline and should be holistic. Aspiring leaders are looking to learn from the best managers in your company and want many people to be actively engaged in their development. “Shadowing” and “self-education” are essential elements, but you have to widen the scope to accelerate learning. Learning to lead is a complex process and is why leadership development should not rest with one individual – it is a team game. Direct-line managers will be great at developing functional expertise but not necessarily great at leadership development. It requires the organization’s weight, focus, and commitment to outcomes that will benefit the individual and the organization at large.
Bridge the Gap
To bridge the gap, start focusing on what outstanding leadership looks like and then create an environment where aspiring leaders can learn leadership skills in a disciplined, watchful manner. I like the concept of a leadership lab. Framing leadership development as a lab invites one to think about the resources, processes, conditions, and protections necessary to produce the desired outcome. In doing so, you can create a satisfying experience that:
- Provides a structured learning experience (they understand they are learning and not expected to know everything immediately).
- Encourages strengthening partnerships within the company, so more people invest in developing the aspiring leaders (it’s a team game).
- Reinforces what you expect from leaders (role modeling behavior from your best leaders).
- Leverages resources that specialize in positive behavior change.
At the end of the day, aspiring leaders want to understand the criteria, be measured fairly, and be given the opportunity to advance. Developing leadership presence, building internal relationships, understanding the right way to mobilize resources, and having the courage to have crucial conversations can be developed over time in an environment that sets them up for success. Don’t just put them in the game — set them up for success by enhancing the way you prepare them — think leadership lab.