Your best investment Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2007
Promotions give employees the opportunity to be leaders, but they don’t make them into leaders.

 

“Someone can be given a leader’s title, but effective leadership is much more than a title or a position,” says Dr. Paul Otte, executive director of the Franklin University Leadership Center and president of Franklin University. “It’s an ongoing process that requires leadership development.”

Effective leadership at all levels is incredibly valuable because it maximizes the potential of every person in the organization. Just like financial analysts make great efforts to increase the return on monetary assets, skilled leaders work diligently to leverage the full potential of their organizations’ most important assets — their people.

Smart Business discussed with Otte the importance of leadership development within an organization.

Why should companies invest in leadership education?

Should you entrust your most important asset, your employees, to someone who isn’t prepared to lead them? Think about other individuals who have responsibility for people: police, fire, military, school bus drivers, pilots. There is a public outcry if these people fail in their responsibilities. People in each of these positions are required to participate in ongoing development.

Shouldn’t the same be true for leadership? Our organizations have an obligation, and an incentive, to assure that those who lead are prepared for their responsibilities. Lives may not be lost, but if leadership fails, careers can be destroyed or never fulfilled, and companies can incur significant losses that are tangible — such as financial — and intangible — such as employee morale.

How can leadership development have a significant return on investment (ROI) for an organization?

Leadership development can produce a measurable ROI when organizations shift their focus from just having employees attend leadership events to creating leadership development programs. That means changing the emphasis from merely receiving information to applying the information. If an organization simply sends people to leadership events or puts on events themselves without emphasizing how to apply the information, the return can be minimal. The key is to have a plan that will yield the maximum results.

How can businesses create or refine their leadership development programs to be more effective?

Like anything else, it requires a commitment. It begins with identifying people who have demonstrated leadership potential. There’s something almost self-fulfilling in telling people they have been selected for a leadership development opportunity. Some organizations are reluctant to identify their potential leaders, but identifying people builds commitment: from the organization to the person and the person to the organization.

Then organizations need to decide how much to commit. How many people are they willing to develop, and how much time are they willing to provide each of them? One way is to decide what percentage of a person’s time they want to fill with leadership development. In a 2,000 work-hour year, an employee with 1 percent of his or her time spent on leadership development would participate in a total of 20 hours. If company decision-makers want to raise the leadership development ‘bar’ for this same group of individuals, they could match the time to 2 percent, or 40 hours, per year.

A basic leadership development program (1 percent level) helps individuals understand how they can apply what they have learned to leading people within their sphere of influence. A matching program (2 percent level) gives the organization the opportunity to select topics that are based on their business needs. For example, an organization going through rapid change will want to include topics like: why people resist change, overcoming fears, communicating change, dealing with uncertainty or building commitment at the conceptual level.

A great way to implement this approach is through a leadership development program at an educational institution that emphasizes leadership in its curriculum. For instance, an employee could get a jump-start with an all-day leadership conference and then participate in monthly leadership seminars coupled with follow-up sessions to help him or her apply the lessons.

What if someone cannot be identifed to develop these additional programs?

Educational institutions that specialize in leadership development have a variety of activities and exercises developed to address topics like the ones previously mentioned. Franklin University has invested millions of dollars in creating a leadership development curriculum that businesses can tailor to fit their needs.

DR. PAUL OTTE is the president of Franklin University and executive director of the Franklin University Leadership Center, which serves as both a catalyst and a major resource dedicated to raising the level of leadership in central Ohio. The Center serves organizations in the four sectors of business, community, government and education. Leadership resources and information can be found at www.leadership.franklin.edu or by calling (614) 947-6888.