Leadership development can definitely deliver return on investment. But it can also be a costly activity that never really demonstrates how it is adding value.
A couple of years ago I spoke with a senior executive who had just paid a five figure sum to attend a leadership development program at a top business school. I asked him, “What was your biggest learning from the experience?” His answer surprised me …. “I learned the difference between leadership and management”. Wow he paid a high price to learn that! I wish I had met him before his investment in the program – I could have saved him a lot of cash! But there’s often an allure for senior executives to number themselves with the great and the good who attend such programs – after all, you get what you pay for, right! It is essential for any investment in leadership development to have a well thought through intent and value proposition to make it fit for purpose.
Let me suggest the 3 top reasons for having a strategic approach to leadership development to ensure that any investment delivers the best results:
1. Have a strategic imperative for investing in leadership development.
Just creating a leadership development program because it’s what most good organizations do, isn’t a great approach. But, developing a strategy to develop leaders that is intrinsically aligned to the business strategy is imperative.
For example, if your organization has ambitions to grow or diversify, having leaders best equipped to deliver the business goals as well as a healthy pipeline of future leaders, is essential. The process of then designing a leadership development strategy to equip and promote leaders with the required characteristics to deliver what the business is focused on, makes a lot of sense. Indeed, the best way to add rigor to a leadership development strategy, is to create metrics for it that are aligned to the metrics of organizational growth and value.
2. Alignment of initiatives and interventions is essential.
Some organizations have great individual leadership development programs. But sometimes these are standalone programs that only focus on one strata of leadership. It is essential to have a leadership development strategy that touches every level of leadership.
Some years ago I was asked to help implement a leadership program that focused on front-line leaders. This was the strata of leadership that the Board believed needed most attention. Behind this rationale, was a catastrophic failure that led to this multi-national incurring massive costs to rectify a major failure in its operations. I asked what attention was being paid to the executive, given that a culture of non-accountability had been allowed to develop over time. “None”, was the answer. Putting “a finger in the dyke” won’t deliver a leadership development strategy – “fixing the dyke” will deliver lasting change!
3. The health of the organization depends on its leadership.
Employee engagement and a vibrant culture are both dependent on great leadership. Intentional investment in the quality of leaders is a rational response to creating the environment for an organization to flourish.
A leadership development strategy is vital in developing leaders to be the best they can be, for the sake of their employees and the ultimately, all stakeholders. And it’s not just the status quo that needs attention, it’s an investment in attracting and retaining the best leaders to promote and accelerate the organization’s ambitions.
Having worked in numerous organizations to design an effective strategy, I am very aware of the limitations of individual programs that are skin-deep in effectiveness. Designing a leadership development strategy that connects the 3 points above, is a sure way to demonstrate strategic thinking focused on delivering a return on investment.