Leadership development is an investment. At minimum, it’s an investment to minimize risk: risk of losing employees; risk of retribution; risk of creating a burned-out, toxic culture. At maximum, it’s an investment in creating an organization of people who have a higher level of well-being and who enjoy working there.
Companies need to invest in leadership development, but more importantly, they need to make sure it’s part of their culture. There’s nothing wrong with a one-day seminar, but it’s not a leadership development plan. Creating a culture takes more than a single rah-rah meeting.
Here are three key factors that will help your company build a flourishing leadership program that nurtures effective leaders.
1. Take Responsibility
For any leadership development platform to work, executives have to own it, value it and make it the way of doing things in their organization. The tone from the top matters. Regardless of the consulting group or platform used, executives have to make the program their own.
One of the biggest mistakes companies make is half-heartedly implementing a development program that starts to look like someone else’s material. Without full integration — including company branding and logos on the handouts — the concepts and practices just sit, and employees don’t have the sense that they are their own.
2. Commit the Time and Resources
Part of owning development is setting aside the time and resources to put it in place. Leadership development doesn’t happen in optional seminars on Saturday and Sunday. It requires a formal training and development structure. Setting aside time for leadership training signals its importance.
Nothing is more telling than hearing that a company wants to move its culture toward leadership development but has no budget for the process. If you want great leaders and a great culture, your budget needs to reflect this goal. If you don’t budget for training, you really don’t want it.
Your company may not have a lot of expendable cash. If so, do something with the resources you do have. Company-wide leadership development should be seen as a necessity, not a nicety.
“We’re too busy” is not a reason to forgo formal training. You don’t have the time not to develop your leaders. The cost of not making time could be a lawsuit. In fact, that thinking is why you need transformational training — to wake up leaders to a new way of relating to time as well as money, the self, friendships and the unknown.
3. Establish a Formal Structure
A few years ago, I asked an executive how her company was training its leaders. She said, “Oh, it happens informally.”
“Really?” I replied. “How does that happen?”
“Some leaders meet with their team, and some leaders meet with other leaders in peer groups.”
“So, there are peer groups that specifically meet?”
“Well, no, they just, you know, meet when they have to work on projects together.”
In other words, the informal leadership development plan consisted of people’s attendance at meetings from time to time.
Imagine teaching 16-year-olds how to drive “informally.” Learning any new skill takes conscious, deliberate training and practice. Implementing an organization-wide leadership development program is no different. It requires an intentional, reproducible and sustainable model for developing leaders and cultivating them throughout their life cycle in the company.
The formal structure of leadership development will vary from company to company. It might be a weekly discussion of a leadership book with specific actions or monthly training with a consultant. The key is to make it intentional and to structure it so employees can apply what they learn. Training should not stay in the theoretical. Employees need to understand how to apply leadership skills in specific situations, and the training should give them specific practices and actions to use.
Even the individuals in your company who already have leadership qualities still need the structure and guidance to develop and enhance those skills. Without an intentional plan to cultivate and develop leaders, your business will not grow, or its growth will be haphazard. It will also experience human resources (HR) problems.
Leadership Development Makes Your Company Competitive
Companies can make money without implementing a formal leadership development training structure, but don’t be deluded: People want more out of their job than making money. If you want to be competitive in today’s market, your yardstick of success has to be much bigger than offering employees a paycheck.
Employees today want both to do their work and to have positive well-being. They want to feel proud of the company they work for, and they want to know the company cares about its employees. “Caring” does not mean they have the best bonus structures. It means the company supports its employees in their development and growth for as long as they’re with the company. It means employees have opportunities to be creative and innovative. If your company doesn’t offer these benefits, people will eventually look for them elsewhere.