Retooling Leadership Development: Creating Intentional Development
By Richard Citrin and Michael Couch
When we were coaching business leaders during the 2009 downturn, one of the few areas in which they were feeling good was related to talent acquisition and retention. These leaders knew they had the upper hand and were prepared to leverage it to their maximum advantage. We warned them, however, that the world keeps turning and that soon the sun would rise on a new reality. We suggested they prepare for the future by looking to develop and grow their employees at that time so that they would have a secure and committed workforce for the future.
Today, the trend is 180 degrees in the opposite direction, and these same leaders are scrambling to find and maintain their best and brightest. Research supports what we’ve always seen: Professionals of all ages are always looking for more than money. They want to grow, develop professionally, work for good bosses, and have the opportunity to advance in their careers.
Most organizations, however, don’t know how to meet these goals. They place all their development planning into annual reviews. The plans for growth and skill development end up in online folders. These plans come out six months later, and a box on a form gets a checkmark. This approach assumes that the employees will somehow figure out how to develop the identified skills through some kind of HR training or an osmotic transfer of knowledge from their manager. Not surprisingly, this approach is not working very well.
Organizations need to develop a more intentional approach towards improving the performance of their employees. For us, intentional means a planned and targeted approach for helping team members (1) acquire the requisite skills for meeting business objectives; (2) build skills in regular interactions between the manager and employee; and (3) experience development in activities that occur on a regular, everyday basis in the workplace.
We’ve developed a simple, four-step process that retools the leadership development process. The key is for the leader to be mindful of these steps and to put them into play on an ongoing basis. The four steps are as follows:
- Frame It:The development of talent must be tied to the business strategy. All too often, leadership development programs teach young leaders skills such as “decision making” or “conflict management,” but they do so in a business vacuum. Tying development to the business strategy not only focuses activities on real-life situations but also addresses one of the major concerns presented by leaders, which is that they “do not enough time.” By tying development to real-life business issues, managers can make certain that development activities happen as a part of everyday business challenges.
- Name It: The key to developing great leadership skills is to actually be able to name the skill. Most seasoned and young leaders don’t really think in terms of competencies or skills (which are the specific behaviors associated with success). Qualities such as “charisma” or being able to “take charge” are complex and are composed of many different behavioral skills. Focusing on smaller and more specific behavioral competencies provides the behavioral capabilities for leadership.
- Claim It:We have a tendency not to recognize, or even to diminish, our own best capacities. Alan often says that self-esteem is the weakest link for many consultants, and it certainly is a weak link for many leaders in the workplace. Claiming one’s talent and skill is missing from most people’s DNA.
Building a muscle that acknowledges our strengths is essential for success. We tell leaders that they can help their protégées claim their skills by providing the proper kind of feedback about their successful leadership efforts. Making comments such as “I liked the way you led the team discussion today by making sure you garnered everyone’s input,” is a much more powerful message than “good job.”
- Aim It:The Aim It element ensures that the targeted skill is directed towards the specific business activity that needs to be accomplished. For one of our clients, “developing strategic agility” meant that her leadership team was able to move out of the weeds of day-to-day management and could begin to focus on the larger and more critical strategic issues their business faced.
Every company needs to be paying attention to its up-and-coming leaders. Most miss the opportunity due to perceived time constraints or because they just do not know how to do it. As consultants, our job is to point out the opportunities and provide skills to these leaders so they can drive success throughout these organizations.
This article is based on our forthcoming book due in 2019: Retooling Leadership Development:An Executive’s Guide to Driving Results through Intentional Development.
© Richard Citrin and Michael Couch, 2018