If you want to ensure your leadership development programs are successful, you need to instill a single belief among aspiring leaders in your organization. This single belief trumps all other efforts you undertake in preparing your program. It is more important and more powerful than top leadership commitment. It will be more successful than selecting a good leadership development vendor. It is more critical than getting people to commit to attending.
You must establish a culture in your organization that leadership development is a personal responsibility for anyone who wants to lead and succeed in your organization. This is no small feat, but if you want to develop leaders in your organization, you must start by getting people to believe that anyone can be a leader.
The Message: It's Up to You
One way to instill such a culture is to get top leadership to say, in no uncertain terms:
“Leadership is a critical core skill and one that is required to be successful in this organization. If you want to succeed here, you better develop yourself. It’s entirely up to you. Read books, use our tuition reimbursement program to attend management classes at the local university extension, get a mentor, and volunteer to lead projects outside of your normal areas of responsibility. Do some and/or all of these things continuously, and you will succeed as a leader anywhere, not just in our organization. We do offer leadership development programs internally. Attend these sessions, as well. But remember, it is entirely up to you whether you succeed as a leader around here, and we will provide many opportunities to help you grow. But, it's up to you.”
An unequivocal statement like this from top leadership makes it clear to everyone in the organization, what is required to become a leader.
Formal Programs an Exclusive Club
Another way to ensure success is to make the internally offered leadership develop programs exclusive and not available to everyone. This is counter-intuitive to what I have said earlier in this post, so hear me out. Exclusivity works as a tool for selling many types of products. People want what they cannot have. If you make leadership development programs an exclusive club, your high potentials will work hard to earn their way in. They will work to better themselves, and they will make it known that they want in.
Managers should want to attend. They should not only want to attend, they should have a burning desire to get into the leadership development program sessions you are offering. And in preparation, they should be studying on their own by reading books, attending classes at the local university extension and seeking mentors and voluntary assignments in other parts of the organization.
Why exclusive? Once a leadership development program is organized and managers are compelled to attend it has failed. People who feel forced to attend training, often do not go to class thinking about how much they can or will learn. They usually rebel by allowing their cynical side to dominate their attitude in class. They go through the motions, but leave what they learned in class and take their binder back to their desk and stuff it in a drawer.
On the other hand, if you have a class filled with managers who are itching to learn something more about how to be a better leader – because they want to get ahead, or because they want to help their team be better – then you will have an enriching, effective and productive leadership development program.
No matter how you set up your leadership development program you must ensure aspiring leaders take personal responsibility for their own development. It is, after all, up to them.
Bill Cushard, Director of Training and Development at Allonhill (link to: http://www.allonhill.com), is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.