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How Leaders Get Better – Part Two

by Kevin D. Crone

September 9, 2013

How do you attract, build, and retain leaders so that you can compete successfully in the marketplace?  How do you invigorate your leadership training and development initiatives?

These were a couple of key questions our worldwide organization asked human resource professionals and managers recently, as part of our research project.  The following is a small taste of what we uncovered.

Traditional models for building, attracting, and retaining high-potential people aren’t functioning anymore.  Human resource professionals generally followed the model constructed in the eighties by the Centre for Creative Leadership, which stated that 70% of development comes from on-the-job stretch experiences, 20% from coaching and mentoring, and 10% from internal and external training, books and study.  Fifty percent of the resources went to executive development, 40% to management, and 10% to supervisory personnel or occasionally others selected as high-potential people. The stages of growth were believed to follow this order:
1.    lead self
2.    lead others
3.    lead functions
4.    lead organizations

Our research uncovered that a less formal practice has taken hold whereby individuals are structuring their own development.  It is truly a jungle out there, and everyone is on their own – especially during cutbacks to training and development budgets.  (Canadian companies rank way in the back of the pack as far as putting money toward the development of their people, even in the best of times.)  Today, high-potential employees can look up any answer, network with successful people, take the “best of the best” courses, develop a mentoring relationship with a boss or outside mentor, and for the most part, determine what they need –  a personalized and customized approach.

Yet resources are still allocated using the old model.  But if the old model worked, why is there such an engagement problem?  It seems that if management is trying to deal with that engagement problem, it would be a good thing to invest in leadership development and, at the same time, be more flexible with resources. Then questions arise that affect the business and employees.  Aren’t there numbers of people with potential who leave because no one pays attention to them or gives them formal training?  Aren’t there more high performers in mid-management, supervision and the ranks, just waiting to be developed to their best advantage?  If managers are fatigued, do they really need more academic, knowledge-dump seminars, or semi-annual planning and review sessions?  Personal improvement plans exist for everyone yet few in human resources and management really expect training and development to result in changes in behaviour and habits.

Should training work or should it just be about lecturing academic exercises?  I just spoke with a very good human resource professional in a growing company with a management team that’s driving terrific engagement initiatives and improving their survey scores (now showing that 93% of their people are engaged).  Yet she realized that her firm is not developing leaders who are as good as they thought they were.  Their mentoring and short-seminar approach isn’t doing much to create a stable of future leaders with improved habits.  The fact is, leadership is such a concern because it is simply hard to find and develop leaders.  Organizations need leaders who can create change, engage employees, keep morale high, lessen fatigue and develop people.  Every company needs these farsighted people now so that they can build the capacity of their business and create market change readiness so they can continue to grow or, in some cases, wake up  the business.  The traditional way of sending such trainees to the best university or seminar isn’t working. Knowing isn’t the same as doing.  All of us know better. People learn best by doing under the guidance of a coach, and the follow-up and practice should never end.

Big Questions:
•    Does your organization have a culture that creates and encourages constant learning and practice?  Is it adequate or inadequate?
•     Are you waiting for your company to promote you, develop you, and take care of your future?
Regardless of the size of your business, your leadership is already required, and it is in demand.  Seize the opportunity.  Be responsible for making sure you develop your skills.

Managers and human resource professionals want a bigger bang for their buck when they invest in leadership development and training in general.

There are currently many challenges, including:
– Using fewer of the firm’s resources, how can organizations effectively reach more people who work from their own home office or outside the home-office area. It is costly to bring everyone in for training.

– Unfortunately, little effort has been put into making training more than an “event”. Only 10-30% of most event training is transferred to an employee’s job and it seems too cumbersome to measure any ROI.

– There are many factors and barriers to making training work, and most companies don’t have the tools or put in the effort to find out exactly what the stumbling blocks are, and how to transcend or fix them. As a result, many managers and human resource professionals give up and don’t believe much in training.  They wind up throwing  case-study academic models of learning at their managers and low-value, quick knowledge-dump seminars or pep talks at the rest of their people.  They make training an outside job, instead of fixing the barriers inside and demanding more from training.

For example, too few high-potential people are connected to their manager in ways that they can see him/her as a coach or mentor. As a result, few know where their business is going and what they need to do be a vital part of it.  They are left to figure out on their own what they can do to get better, and what’s necessary for them to grow.  This scenario could explain why those who do grow feel compelled to leave; they wind up bringing their new skills and attitudes to their new employer.  Again, employees want to feel valued and connected (engaged) and they want to grow into opportunities.  Build your people, or they will leave.

Some effort has to be made to connect training and coaching to the business strategy and to the supervisors.  For example, for years we have requested that the participant of any inside or open/public program join in a dialogue with their manager using five questions around the business strategy.  We see that less than half actually have that conversation.  The participant and the manager just aren’t connected; the manager is not committed to the essential coaching and following up.  As a result, our effort to hook them up becomes an inconvenience and we let them focus on just their own personal development.  Get this barrier fixed and you will go a long way to making your training and investment work better. Usually, management doesn’t even take the training themselves, even though it is designed for leadership, nor do they often follow up.  It is not that they aren’t busy or doing important things – they just don’t realize how their commitment matters and what it says about their own leadership. If management participated in the training or coaching they’d be able to show how it’s done.  Everyone wants to work for the kind of leader who would do anything they ask their employees to do.

Learning to be a better leader isn’t just about studying modules, learning exercises, or partaking in guided discussions.  It’s about getting a picture of what is required and where to lead in the business; making sure you are connected to your role and part; looking at the reality of your behaviour, thinking and attitudes squarely in the eye; mapping out what needs to be improved; being engaged with training and coaching that makes you practice over and over the behaviours with follow-up and built-in accountability to use it until you are comfortable and in the habit, especially under pressure.

That is truly an inside job.  That is serious commitment to growth and change. You know what I mean – you’ve been there.  It’s an internal process for each person, and it isn’t about theory.  If your training doesn’t include all those factors, especially the practice, then it probably won’t stick.  It’s been proven that anyone can change in the right supportive-yet-stretching environment, with the right coach and appropriate training structure.  Lasting skills, attitudes, and habits can be gained and the business has automatically grown in capacity to compete when it happens.

Let’s review Parts One and Two:  
•    Leadership development goes hand-in-hand with engagement.

•    Personal growth and development plans follow a more individualized approach  in progressive companies . It is  less formulaic and more practical than the old one from the eighties.  Engage more of your people with potential to find leaders who can lead change.

•    HR professionals can be the catalyst and go-between in raising morale and reducing economic fatigue.

•    Training and development can work better than it does. Make sure to improve your practices.  If necessary, draw on more of the valuable  outsiders who can really guide your people using the best model you can find.

Next week, Part Three concludes by outlining what our research found: there are seven unique opportunities and new trends that high-performing companies address in their efforts to build leaders who can compete successfully.

– What occurred to you today?
– What will you do to make your own leadership, or your people’s leadership, better?
– How can you improve your training initiatives to actually make people better leaders?

Have a great week!
Kevin D. Crone
Dale Carnegie Business Group
(905) 826-7300 ext. 223

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