Brian O’Neill and CJ Rodriguez, leadership development advisors at American Homes 4 Rent, have distinct mantras for driving leadership initiatives at the young pioneer of the single-family rental industry.

For O’Neill, it’s “link, embed, align.” For Rodriguez, it’s “for the field, from the field.”

“I’ve had ‘link, embed, align’ within me for many years now,’” O’Neill says, referring to his experience at companies like Marriott, Vail Resorts, The Venetian and Aimco. “It is a kind of totem for me – the principle that whatever we provide to our leaders up and down the organization must be linked to our core values, embedded in other non-leadership learning experiences, meetings, and annual conferences, and aligned with all internal and external messaging, branding, and so forth.”

One example is the core competencies that AH4R embraces in the way that other companies have core values. Of the six competencies – Instills Trust, Customer Focus, Communicates Effectively, Situational Adaptability, Values Differences and Drives Results – it is the Values Differences competency that O’Neill and  Rodriguez have worked most to link, embed and align within and around the leadership journey curriculum.

“’Values Differences’ is still rare as a guiding principle among companies, but AH4R has put a stake in the ground around this concept since 2017,’” O’Neill says. Knowing this core competency could not be just a poster on the wall or a slogan, O’Neill and Rodriguez joined AH4R and focused on developing a unique conversation-style learning experience called “Valuing Differences – Roots.” This conversation allowed all 1,700 employees to talk about the differences they bring to the growing company – visible and invisible diversity traits, backgrounds, important milestones in their lives and so on.

“We needed to establish a strong link to this core competency before developing the Leadership Journey and its focus on an effective mindset,” O’Neill says. You simply cannot have an effective leadership mindset without having a thoughtful mindset around the broad concepts of valuing others’ differences. Not just accepting or tolerating…valuing the wide range of differences we bring to our company.”

For Rodriguez, it’s “for the field, from the field.”

“Too often, L&D professionals build development programs on the latest business trends, buzz words, or what others think is beneficial to the audience. The ‘for the field, from the field’ approach creates opportunities – often missed opportunities – to connect with people and develop programming that lives where they live, creating solutions to build skills and mindset,” shares Rodriguez, referring to her executive leadership and consultant work with companies like AppleOne, SunTrust, Nextel, TruGreen and AtWork.

The framework for the leadership journey blended both Brian and CJ’s mantras, which served as the foundation to ensure the quality of content and materials was crafted and delivered across a variety of learning platforms. The collaboration brought forward a successful leadership development program that layers employees’ learning. The four Milestones included in the leadership journey are Personal Leadership, Team Leadership, Impact Leadership and Servant Leadership. Each program is unique in that it offers employees a development opportunity regardless of what stage they are at in their career.

“It is critical that we lean in and listen to our audience. Gathering their voice is the first step in determining what meaningful content is needed to support them, but it doesn’t stop there. Establishing platforms that continue to allow their voice to be heard is essential to long-term success. This continues to support the development success of our continued programming,” says Rodriguez.

With these two simple touchstones, those who create and maintain leadership development at their companies will be more integrated and effective overall.

  • Link/embed/align: Do not let your leadership development initiatives exist apart from or outside other functional areas of the company. Continuously link to your company’s mission, vision, values, purpose statement or other core aspects to the learning. Embed company values into the way your leadership development is developed, launched and maintained – and infuse key concepts of your leadership programs into the non-leadership curriculum. Align internal messaging for the mindset and skill set development you build in the leadership curriculum with external messaging for recognition, engagement, marketing, and branding.
  • For the field, from the field: Capture the voice of all employees when considering the development of any program. Collect ideas and feedback through a brief survey, one-on-one conversations or established focus groups. Be sure to keep diversity and inclusion at the forefront when selecting your audience. Gather insights from varying role levels, functions, nationalities, skill levels, tenure, etc. There is an added value in living the “for the field, from the field” mantra. You will establish a greater sense of trust, credibility, and rapport, resulting in a higher level of employee engagement.
Register for the June Training Industry Conference & Expo (TICE) to hear CJ Rodriguez and Brian O’Neill”s session, “The Leadership Journey.” 

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