As of 2014, about 10,000 baby boomers retire every day. While there are plenty of millennials moving into and upward in organizations, research shows that they’re not developing leadership skills at the rate needed to replace retiring leaders. In fact, a 2015 Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) survey of 2,339 managers in 24 organizations found that for 20 identified leadership competencies, the level of proficiency is inadequate “across countries, industries, and organizational levels.”
The importance of effective leadership programs is undeniable. Recent research by Training Industry and The Center for Leadership Studies found that across generations, “leaders are better prepared to influence the behavior of followers and followers are more receptive to direction when effective leadership development programs are in place.”
Aleta Norris, partner and co-founder of Living as a Leader, says that most organizations understand that developing a leadership culture is important, but many “are not doing anything about it.” Companies spend a great deal of money on leadership development, but they’re not ensuring that their spending is used strategically to support a strong leadership pipeline.
Based on its 2015 survey, CCL recommends taking “both a strategic and a tactical approach” by aligning leadership development with organizational goals, following five steps:
- Use a needs assessment to identify priorities.
- Develop a leadership strategy, and align training with that strategy.
- Identify clear, specific goals for individual leadership development.
- Create systems for recruitment and retention, talent identification and development, and performance management.
- Evaluate leadership development programs, identifying where additional resources are needed and what metrics should be used to assess the impact of the programs.
The most important consideration when identifying potential leaders, Norris says, isn’t their work performance, but their interactions with others: It’s better to “promote a ‘B’ player with good people skills than an ‘A’ player with bad people skills.” Look for employees to whom others look for guidance, who are willing to make themselves available to employees and who are good at asking questions and relating with others.
Start at the beginning of an employee’s career, writes Paul Mahler, founder of The Leader Within, in Training Industry Magazine. Developing employees’ leadership and innovation skills from the start “can create a company-wide culture that embraces creative change from the bottom-up.” Key skills include critical thinking, emotional intelligence, executive presence, business acumen, relationship-building, problem-solving and team leadership skills.
Multi-modal learning is best for holistic leadership development. Include coaching, instructor-led training, e-learning, microlearning and social learning. The best approach, says Norris, is “technology plus human touch,” supported by accountability processes. According to the Economic Times, some of India’s leading businesses like Citi, Mondelez and KPMG use action learning projects and cross-functional rotations, combined with formal learning, coaching, social learning and mentoring, to develop young leaders.
Effective leadership development, wrote Priti Shah, then vice president of leadership product strategy and corporate development at Skillsoft, in Training Industry Magazine, should be continuous. Organizations must provide “relevant, contextual learning opportunities in the moment of need” so that leaders can reach their development goals. She recommends using adaptive technology to provide content recommendations just in time.
The key for all leadership development initiatives, Norris says, is to be intentional and strategic. The responsibility lies with anyone who manages others, and with L&D professionals to ensure that the way training is developed and delivered maximizes impact. “If we agree … that good leadership matters, and that strong leadership is non-negotiable” – and it seems that organizations do – then executives must lead an intentional leadership culture, and training managers must ensure that skills are applied and retained, contributing to “the long-term sustainability of a consistent leadership culture.”