Companies face an urgent need to develop leaders at all levels — from bringing younger leaders on board faster to keeping senior leaders relevant and engaged longer. In a Deloitte survey of CEOs and HR leaders, 85 percent rated leadership development as “urgent” or “important.” But, only 14 percent said their companies do an excellent job developing leaders.
Bridging that gap requires organizations to commit to building the leadership pipeline at every level. They need to identify potential leaders earlier and provide them with impactful development opportunities, as well as offer senior executives ongoing training to keep their leadership skills fresh.
Easier said than done?
True, but speaking from experience, the way to develop the kind of leaders organizations need for tomorrow is to make leadership development personal. That means having senior leaders committed to mentor and work closely with the people who could be the organization’s future leaders.
Early in my career, I had the opportunity to serve on a council with senior leaders. One day a senior partner said, “Byron, you’re doing a great job, but you’re not taking full advantage of your access to senior leadership. You need to reach out to these people and have conversations so they can get to know you.”
He handed me a list of five people and told me to talk to them about what I had accomplished and what I wanted to achieve. Fast forward to today: I wouldn’t be where I am as a leader without the relationships and opportunities that came from that leader and others taking a personal interest in me and my career journey.
Providing personalized leadership development often requires a culture of opportunity established by the CEO and flowing down to other levels. That means a commitment to putting potential leaders in positions that stretch their skills, and continuous support from senior executives.
I see three keys to helping make personal leadership development part of an organization’s culture:
Provide diverse paths to leadership
Think about your business. You’re likely facing various challenges, calling for different perspectives, approaches and types of leadership: entrepreneurial leaders who can start a new venture; scale leaders to build the business up; efficiency leaders to reduce costs and improve operations; and fix-it leaders to turn businesses around.
Listen before coaching
Developing leaders requires understanding employees as individuals, learning their strengths and areas for development and knowing what is important to them and their career. Through close listening, you’ll be able to tailor your insights, coaching and development program to their needs.
Stretch potential leaders’ capabilities
Supporting a new market or product, working with a major client or customer and spearheading a new initiative can stretch potential leaders’ abilities. It can put them in a position to apply what they learn from mentors and create catalytic experiences for their future.
Leadership development is about making a personal and sustained commitment to matching skills with opportunities and providing an environment in which leaders learn from failures as well as successes.