With the magnitude of resources available to nurture and develop leadership talent, the big question is why meaningful individual and team progress often feels so elusive.
Last week, I circled back to six executives in a client organization to see how well they had utilized their narrative 360 feedback to inform and advance their own leadership development. Six months had passed since receiving their feedback, determining their learning commitments and moving forward on specific development efforts ranging from project assignments to regular coaching to on-demand learning opportunities.
When I asked about progress, the most common response for falling short on identified commitments was the urgency of other issues and challenges that pushed aside their development priorities. This isn’t all that surprising, given the demanding ride that most senior leaders experience in their day-to-day work lives.
What really surprised me, however, as the next most frequent reason for delayed or abandoned action on their development efforts was a lack of interest or support from their immediate boss. Even something as simple as regular progress “check-ins” seemed to be absent. Considering all the time, effort and money this company invests in leadership development, this could be interpreted as unintentional neglect.
As you work with your leaders and leadership teams, here are some ideas to help ensure continued momentum on identified development priorities:
1.) Be Transparent About Your Own Development
- Share your development needs with your leadership colleagues and direct reports and ask for their assistance where appropriate. Research shows that people are much more likely to provide support to those who are working to improve their performance.
- Keep asking for regular, ongoing feedback. Ask colleagues for their assistance in your development. Are they able to act as a coach on specific issues or topics? Can they teach you a new skill or encourage a new behaviour? Can they be a springboard for new ideas? Utilize the people around you to help in your development.
2.) Challenge Other Team Members
- Remember, real development is not cozy or safe – it comes from varied, stressful and adverse tasks that require us to learn something new or different. It might cause us to stumble, recover and try again.
- Development involves real work. It’s rewarding but can definitely be challenging at times. Be open with your leaders about this. Work with them to identify activities and assignments that force them out of their comfort zone.
- Consider tasks that are no longer developmental for you but that would be for your team members and delegate. Trade tasks and assignments between two leaders – literally have them do some aspect of each other’s work. Assign a task that the person hasn’t done before.
- Provide support as needed. It sends a message that there’s safety on the other side. It helps people cope with the anxiety of developing while maintaining a positive view of themselves as capable and valuable contributors who can learn and grow. Without support, the developmental experience may discourage rather than foster learning.
- Celebrate when specific development milestones are realized, both those of your own and those of others.
3.) Value Depth of Expertise
- Not every senior leader is pushing to be the next C-suite executive. Some are satisfied to focus on what they do best, even if it limits their chances of filling the top roles in their organization.
- While you should advise them of potential implications for career progression, all organizations need strong leaders dedicated to developing others in their own areas. Don’t imply that a leader who is at the top of their game in an operational or functional area must become a C-suite executive to be valued.
- Create more ways for people to excel and get status recognition. If, for example, a leader wants to remain in his or her role for a period of time to achieve key priorities and goals, recognize that as important and help the leader develop in every way possible within that area.
4.) Prioritize Time to Develop Your Leaders
- Do you try to focus on developing leaders who report to you but find that other activities always seem to have higher priority?
- For virtually all senior leaders, time is what they have the least of to give. But to help others develop beyond today’s role, you need to prioritize time to provide feedback, coach and mentor on a quarterly basis.
- Schedule regular time to develop your leaders. Make it a priority to help them grow. You, your team and your organization will benefit significantly from improved satisfaction and enhanced performance.
5.) Demonstrate Patience for Development
- Leadership development doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to make the necessary behavioural changes that are noticeable, sustainable and position individuals for future success.
- Just like there is no “easy” way to prepare for a marathon, carry out a significant event or write a book, there are no shortcuts for learning and growth. Deliberate and sustained practice is necessary to really hone a skill or demonstrate a behaviour to make it a strength.
6.) Coach Others to Encourage Personal Responsibility for Development
- Coaching puts an individual firmly in the driver’s seat of professional development. And, it requires letting go of control and resisting the urge to “tell” others what and how to develop.
- As a coach, your role isn’t to know the right answers, it’s to know the right questions – questions that are thoughtfully constructed with the aim of facilitating a person’s thinking around development.
- Questions should help them gain clarity on where they’re heading, such as “What’s your specific goal and anticipated outcome?” “Where are you right now in that process?” “What else do you need to do to get there?”
- Questions should encourage action-oriented thinking: “What alternative courses of action could help you move forward?” “What might help or hinder your progress?”
- Questions must commit others to ownership and action, “What will you do now?” “By when?” “How will you measure progress and success?”
- Be specific with the use of the words “you” and “your” in the questions, since it reinforces that the responsibility sits with them.
7.) Use Your Experience to Mentor Other Leaders
- Mentors play a critical role in supporting development through the offer of experience-based insight and guidance.
- Spend time with your selected mentees on a regular basis. Focus on being a positive influence by encouraging others to look at situations from different perspectives. Offer specific and timely feedback as appropriate.
- Encourage your leaders to get feedback from multiple sources on what matters for success in their job. Survey-based or narrative 360-degree feedback are great places to start. Encourage them to canvass direct reports, peers and other key stakeholders for comments on what they should stop, start and continue doing to be more successful.
- Be straight with your people. Give as much timely, accurate and balanced feedback as you can.
8.) Keep Track of What’s Happening
- Keep track of your leaders’ development priorities and their progress against those priorities. Be aware of how you’ve agreed to assist and document progress on specific achievements and misses.
- Remember that it’s often easier to focus on shortcomings than successes. Set aside some time every month to reflect on the performance of your leaders and leadership teams.