Dan Tobin succinctly made the case why so much well-intending leadership development falls short of the mark.
So what works?
Every couple of years, the HR consulting firm Hewitt Associates identifies twenty top "financially successful companies" that "consistently produce great leaders."
In identifying the 20 firms best at leadership development, researchers drew from 373 public and private companies in the United States in early 2005. The median revenue of participating companies was approximately $2 billion, with a median employee size of 7,300. Obviously, that's the big leagues. But the instructive lessons they provide can be applied universally to all types of organizations.
Hewitt found that the top 20 companies differed from the other firms in several key practices.
You can download a 20-page summary of Hewitt's findings (in a PDF file) here.
1. The chief executive and board directors are more actively involved in leadership development initiatives.
Of the top 20 companies, 100% of the CEO are engaged, but of the other firms, 65%.
2. High-potential managers are more often identified, paid more, given greater development, and brought into more frequent contact with top executives.
Of the top 20, 95% identify high potential managers, but of the others, 77%.
3. Leadership development programs are more closely tied to compensation.
Of the top 20, 65% link explicitly leadership capacities to long-term incentive pay, but of others, 23%.
4. Company executives are held more accountable for leadership development programs.
Of the top 20, 80% hold management responsible for developing high-potential managers, but of others, 35%.
In a related "secrets of successful leadership development" item, David Parks of Bluepoint Leadership Development reveals the process Microsoft is using to develop its future leaders:
The Leadership Bench Initiative at Microsoft Corporation is a landmark example of a systemic approach to leadership development. In the course of a year, hand picked participants who are being groomed for director and executive roles are exposed to a series of workshops, action learning projects, and coaching.
Each experience builds upon the last and hangs together as a holistic leadership development process clearly linked to the business goals. It even ventures beyond the traditional boundaries of soft skill leadership development and incorporates financial and business modeling elements.
The entire experience is capped with a final session delivered by Microsoft executives who are involved in the process throughout.
Microsoft wasn't in Hewitt's Top 20 leadership development companies for 2005, but it looks like it's making good strides toward effective Leadership Development. (David Parks made his observations writing in his firm's The Point Newsletter this month.)
Now, if you've read this far, you're into Leadership Development—either as a provider, like me, who works with companies to grow their leaders, or you are in an organization striving to improve its leadership bench strength. One suggestion for anyone on the brink of launching—or assessing—a Leadership Development effort: Ask for the research basis of the programs and its models, assessments, exercises and all the (expensive and time-consuming) trappings that go into a leadership development undertaking.
Leadership Development is too often the province of guesswork and pet theories with little evidentiary foundation. Some good looking, well-presented and intuitively comfortable tactics not only are not proven to work, they are actually—when researched—negatively correlated with producing desired results. Ouch!
Question: Do you really want to subject the time, attention and energy of your most important human assets on what may be the psychological equivalent of snake oil?
Caveat emptor. Buenas fortuna.