Development of Leaders

Development, defined as growth or evolution, has been a constant feature of human history. People developed new skills and improved their ways of doing things.

New languages emerged, innovations were created, and modes of transportation were enhanced. Without development we would all still be living in the Stone Age!

Development is also a critical element for any organization that plans to maintain a competitive advantage, continue to generate results, and sustain a stable, highly motivated and effective workforce.

One often overlooked aspect of this is the development of leaders. Many organizations are facing a crisis because they have failed to attend to the important aspect of leadership development. Succession planning can be brought to a standstill because the shortage of qualified leaders creates difficulty in choosing the next leader.

The first step is to undertake an assessment to confirm that you have the right people lined up for future leadership roles. This does not mean that they have all the right skills today, but rather that you believe they can develop those skills over time.

Once the right people have been identified, the development process can begin. Identify just one or two areas that will yield the biggest returns. This process should be one of mutual agreement between the individual and their manager. Once the areas have been determined, written goals should be created. Actually writing out the goal is essential to the process. Studies conducted at Harvard and Yale report that written goals do have an important impact on life’s outcomes, suggesting that while approximately 23% of people have no direction in life; 67% had a general idea of what they wanted to achieve; 7% had very specific goals, and were successful but, only 3% had specific written goals. And it is this last group who were much more successful than any of the other groups.

I cannot help but wonder if one of the reasons that the three percent saw much greater success than the others is that along with writing out the goals, the individuals probably also wrote out an action plan. Written goals with an action plan are a powerful combination.

The next step is ensuring accountability. This requires tracking the written goals and evaluating results. One important aspect of tracking, particularly when it requires a behaviour change, is the provision of specific, targeted feedback. Feedback is a statement of what is, and its sole purpose should be to assist the person in assessing how well they are doing on a specific goal or behaviour. The feedback should be communicated in a positive tone, and clearly state what was done well or what areas still need enhancing. General comments such as, “that was a good presentation” or “I think your presentation was weak” will not help the individual to understand specifically what needs to change or how they can leverage what they have done well. Instead, “You clearly hit all the key points and described them in a way that everyone understood the value,” clarifies one of the important strengths of the presentation. Focused and specific feedback provides the developing leaders with a concrete opportunity to learn.

Pointing out areas for enhancement is much more difficult than highlighting the positives and requires a different set of skills. Ambiguous feedback such as “I felt that when the new process was described, not everyone fully understood its value” is not as helpful as specific feedback. For instance, in this case it might be appropriate to ask how the speaker assessed whether the audience understood the message, especially as several people’s body language was sending strong messages that they didn’t get it. Two important points about giving feedback are:

  1. Ensuring that the purpose is clearly stated, so people understand the “Why.”
  2. Closing the loop when communicating feedback to make sure the individual fully understands your point.

Positive, targeted, specific feedback is key to helping everyone on your team develop. It requires diligence to practice giving positive, real-time feedback until it becomes automatic. People want and need to know that you care about them and feedback fills that need. It is a key element that takes people from good to great.

The steps outlined here – confirming your potential leaders, identifying goals and action steps, and providing timely, constructive feedback are essential for developing future leaders. Help people develop today and you set them up for success.

Caring is free, but watch it boost your bottom line!

~ Heyler Bracey, Jack Rosenblum, Aubrey Sanford and Roy Trueblood
 – Authors of Managing from the Heart.

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April 1, 2008

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