Learning to lead Featured

9:16am EDT January 30, 2006
Today’s companies are often under pressure to improve their bottom-line performance through downsizings, reorganizations, redeployments and other organizational transitions.

During these times, leadership training and development isn’t usually on the agenda. But it should be, according to human resource experts including the Center for Creative Leadership.

“Business leaders are struggling to use leadership styles that will successfully lead their organizations through these transitions. Often, these leaders are not sure how to balance ‘soft’ leadership skills such as trust, empathy and communication with the more ‘bottom-line’ approaches typically used in these situations,” a recent executive summary from the Center states.

And that’s not the only issue. Executives are often unsure of how to recognize or address necessary leadership development at all levels, from supervisory through management.

“Why should I invest in leadership training now?” A Northeast Ohio business leader asked Amy Shannon, executive director of Corporate College’s Leadership Institute, at a recent meeting. Shannon explains the importance of leadership development as an ongoing business objective that can have a major impact on a company’s bottom-line — whether the business is going through a downsizing transition or trying to improve productivity.

“Dollars are being lost through poor leadership. High turnover, lawsuits, excessive absenteeism and continuous conflict are the results of weak leaders who may be coasting along in your organization right now,” Shannon says. “When we perform an audit for a client, we can quantify and identify the challenge areas and develop a comprehensive training program that includes measurement tools to identify return-on-investment,” Shannon adds.

What are the success factors for effectively executing corporate leadership education and development programs? Michael Andrew, HR consultant and head of Management Education Services, came up with the following qualities that are necessary for developing successful training solutions for his global clients.

  • Commitment from senior executives. Senior executives own the process. They understand the use of executive education as a strategic vehicle. They play the roles of mentor, faculty, supporter and beneficiary of the executive education process.

  • Leadership-led development. In high-impact leadership development, senior executives often play a role as faculty to complement the external consultants. They realize that good companies don’t just teach their managers and leaders — they learn from them.

  • Connection to strategic agenda, key issues and workplace realities. Leadership is best learned within the context in which it will be practiced. This provides the relevance — where the rubber meets the road.

Almost every leadership program deemed best practice is linked to the specific business in which it operates and competes. This is a must. The content, the action-learning initiatives, the overall purpose and objectives of a leadership program must be linked to the business context.

  • Executive development professionals as active business partners. This factor seems so obvious, yet it is not nearly as common as it should be. For example, the best human resources people are those who were good business people first, and HR professionals second.

  • Focus on the right participants. Leadership development may not be for everyone in the company.

  • Action learning with follow-through and measurement. Action learning is simply learning by doing. Learning by doing involves teams working on key or pressing business issues.

  • Enhancement of the “know-who”. The best executive-leadership programs not only act as strategic vehicles, or as vehicles for communicating strategy, focusing behaviors and driving change, but they also enhance each executive’s “know-who” in the company. With many clients, this is often the number one take-away.

Think about the impact — participants know some of the senior executives a lot better, and they have a greater knowledge of their colleagues around the world. They now know who to call or where to go for answers or help in executing their plans.

Denise Reading is president of Corporate College. For further information on Corporate College, visit www.corporatecollege.com or call (866) 806-2677.