A recent piece by the Harvard Business Review looked at the $60 billion global organisations spend on leadership development programmes and asks if the money is well spent – does it change leaders in a meaningful way?
The researchers identified seven strategies to help leadership programme designers focus on interventions and experiences that drive positive change.
Growth is the key.
The first strategy strikes me as being particularly important:
Focus on whole-person growth – leadership development is not about technical skills or specialist knowledge but about broader capabilities. Effective leadership development must look at more than a leaders’ performance of their job tasks, in order to bring their best selves, work they need the self-awareness to manage and improve themselves, and to know others, and know how to help others improve.
Using a whole person growth approach improves organisational outcomes by adding greater value to the leader, personally and professionally.
Five strategies to use in programme design:
Provide opportunities for self-reflection and meaning-making – afford employees the time and space for structured self-reflection, and explicitly encourage them to reflect on their purpose and their investment in personal and professional goals so as to enable insights and perspective shifts.
Target programmes to support leaders with acute or chronic stress – prioritise leadership development when stress due to collective or personal challenges is particularly high, as these initiatives can help de-stress employees and bolster their psychological resources.
Don’t underestimate short, intensive programmes – this is interesting, the research found that shorter courses often achieved large improvements. In some cases, a two or four-day intensive intervention had the same or greater impact than an equivalent four-week programme; some even led to improved wellbeing on par with those observed after therapeutic mental health interventions.
Acknowledge and address psychological barriers to growth – we don’t all have the same appetite for growth, learning, development, all of the time. So, manage expectations around specific learning outcomes, and help participants choose programmes that suit their personal learning goals. Spend time cultivating the mindset necessary for learning and development before launching a new development programme.
Ensure short-term growth leads to sustained, long-term impact – we adapt to new realities, and short-term improvements don’t necessarily lead to long-term transformation. The most effective programmes build on initial change with reminders and ongoing interventions designed to embed long-term habits and continued engagement.
Finally. consider online learning as your friend:
Embrace online learning – online programmes can be as effective as in-person ones. They also tend to be low-cost, efficient and enable you to reach a wide and dispersed audience.
The research found no significant differences between online and in-person programmes as far as the impact on personal growth and wellbeing that they achieved. That said, development can happen just as effectively online as it can in person. As remote work increasingly becomes the norm, exploring online leadership development options seems sensible.
What I took from this article and how we embedded into our leadership development programmes
It is self-evident that every organisation is unique and consequently leadership development programmes must be bespoke, tailored to the needs of the business and the environment in which it operates. Too many programmes are standardised and taken off the shelf.
Secondly, self-awareness is critical to the success of any programme. Typically, this is achieved via 360 or stakeholder interviews, but the most important outcome is developing leaders who actively seek out feedback.
Thirdly, given a business environment that is subject to constant change, programmes need to create a learning environment that reflects those changes. Taking leaders out of their normal environment and exposing them to the unfamiliar will help develop learning agility.
So, my take is that leadership development must create self-awareness, provoke curiosity by soliciting feedback, and expose learners to different environments.
I would be interested to get feedback on what others think leadership development should be all about.