Today’s New Models for Leadership Development

One of the biggest investment areas in Human Resources and Talent Management is Leadership Development.  We like to think about it as one of the bedrock roles of the HR or L&D team, since in many ways “leadership” is one of the most strategic assets in any organization.

Over the last ten years, the leadership development “industry” has rapidly changed, and we have spent a lot of time studying this market.  Let me highlight a few of the big changes which you should be aware of.

1.  Leadership Development goes far beyond management training.

As our leadership development maturity model describes, high powered companies view the leadership development process as a continual process which only begins with first-line supervisors.  While management training plays a role, excellent leadership strategies realize that building leadership takes years – and therefore an enduring organization must invest in leadership from first-line management throughout an employee’s career.

This means that excellent leadership strategies include the identification and assessment of “emerging leaders,” and they look for technical and functional leaders within each business area.  They include coaching, rotational and stretch assignments, self-assessment and 360 assessment, personality assessment, and lots of creative programs to build leadership skills over time.  Some organizations spend heavily on external experts (bringing in university professors), others send their leaders to rough and tumble offsite events, and others spend lots of money on psychological coaches and mentors.  All these elements play a role in building a total leadership pipeline, and companies typically spend $2000 or more per “leader” on such activities each year.

(Read our Leadership Development Factbook® for more benchmarking details.)

2.  Modern Leadership Development is very highly blended.

High-impact leadership programs today are very multi-faceted.  They do not only include many technology offerings (videos, online assessments, collaboration), but they also involve action learning (project assignments, corporate task forces), and often games and simulations.   Sony Electronics (which is a company going through a turnaround) asks all its retail leaders to go through a 2 1/2 day simulation program where they learn how to run a retail electronics operation, using real-world data from Sony’s business.

Traditional training companies like Harvard Publishing, DDI, Skillsoft, AchieveGlobal, PDI Ninth House, Kenexa, and many others now offer a wide range of rich media assets as well.  In the early days of e-learning (circa 1998 or so), people really struggled to develop sound online training programs on the web.  (I remember watching many talking heads over the years, most of which were so dull I couldn’t complete them.)  Companies like NinthHouse Network (now a part of PDI Ninth House) pioneered the concept of producing celebrity videos in the early 2000s.  Unfortunately that company was a little ahead of its time, and the cost of production and delivery ate up the company’s profit – but they pioneered a solution which is now widely available to all of us via YouTube:  watching an expert talk about how they solved a problem.

Just this week Skillsoft, one of the largest corporate online learning companies, announced the acquisition of 50 Lessons, a small but very well run company that built a deep library of short videos by business and HR leaders talking about their philosophies and how they solve problems.  We can all learn from these videos, and now companies mix and match these media assets in their leadership development programs.

3.  Modern Leadership Development includes coaches, assessments, and a wide range of mentoring strategies.

Another dimension to today’s market is the vast and confusing world of coaches and assessment instruments.   According to one of my contacts in this space, there are over 5,000 executive coaches in the world.  My mother, for example, who was a successful real-estate broker, used an executive coach to help her get organized and motivated in her retail real-estate career.  Many human resources and business leaders who retire turn into executive coaches – and most can deliver tremendous value when matched to the right person.

Coaching is a bit of an “imperfect science” from the standpoint of an HR leader – most companies are not really sure how much value they get from coaches and which coaches drive the most value.  We are talking with a new startup who plans to help companies solve this problem, by providing an end-to-end coaching platform that helps companies select coaches and assess their value throughout the coaching process.  But even so, there is often nothing better for an emerging leader than talking with a coach who knows them, their team, and their organization’s needs.  And despite the work of companies like TripleCreek, who provide mentoring and coaching networks, it is still hard to find the “Right Coach” for a given need in a given country.

The assessment market is similarly fragmented.  There are hundreds of assessment tools available, and leadership development managers must select between competency-based tools, personality assessments, behavioral assessments, and style and cultural assessments.  (We can help you with this daunting process.)

Companies like Cisco (who will be presenting at our IMPACT 2011 research conference), have developed highly refined collaborative leadership programs designed to teach top leaders how to collaborate and lead multi-functional teams.

4.  Modern Leadership Development represents an investment in the company’s legacy.

Today, recovering from the recession, companies are realizing more and more that their leadership development programs represent their business’s future.  As top executives retire or leave, it is the future leaders who must carry on the deep legacy of business success.   Only when these people have a deep understanding of the company’s processes, strategies, culture, and practices can the company survive.  So companies that are emerging from the recession (like Citibank) are now reinvesting in Leadership Development in a big way.  Even Apple, one of the most successful businesses in the world, has developed an internal leadership development program based largely on building an enduring pipeline of leaders who understand the “Apple way” of doing business.

Over the last six years we have continuously asked leaders and HR professionals what were their top challenges, and over and over they tell us that “leadership development” and “building new leadership skills” is one of the biggest challenges holding them back.  Companies that continuously invest in sound leadership development outperform their peers – and I believe they always will.

5.  Modern Leadership Development must be globalized, and focus on collaboration and team leadership.

Finally, as the world becomes flatter and most US-based companies expand aggressively overseas, leadership programs are now slowly becoming globalized.  How an individual leads in the middle east (where the workforce is young and much more patriarchal in culture) is very different from leadership in the US (where the workforce is somewhat older and our culture is more hierarchical).  Leaders all over the world are learning that collaboration, empowerment, and clarity of decision-making processes are now top competencies to consider – while other companies still rely heavily on hierarchical approaches.

Come to our IMPACT 2011 Research Conference to learn more…

We will be highlighting some of the world’s leaders in leadership development at our IMPACT 2011 conference, and through our theme, “Building the Borderless Workplace,” you will learn how to modernize and globalize your own leadership development programs.  We expect this year’s conference to be the best ever, so please join us…