Chances are, if you’re reading this post, you’re responsible for leadership in a rapidly-changing business that is going through the kind of growing pains normally reserved for adolescents going through puberty.
As the company grows, your role becomes increasingly challenging.
Sustaining growth requires constant change – in business direction, management structures, employee workloads and skill requirements.
And you recognise that remaining competitive – even surviving – will depend on developing the future leaders that the company needs to be successful.
Research shows that companies that excel at developing leaders tend to achieve higher long-term profitability. Unfortunately, fast growing companies can rarely afford the “luxury” of long, drawn out leadership development programmes.
Traditional approaches to leadership development focus on establishing career paths so that leaders know how to make progress within the organisation and defining competencies so that leaders know what skills and behaviours are expected for effective performance in a specific role at a particular hierarchical level. The competency framework then forms the basis of a “curriculum” of leadership training to help leaders address any development needs.
A structured approach like this works for stable, bureaucratic organisations where the pace of change is slow and the future skills needed by the organisation can be predicted and mapped out.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work well in high-growth, high-change organisations which are, by nature, emergent and dynamic. You can’t easily predict and predetermine career paths in such an organisation and the competencies required by leaders will evolve and change just as the organisation does.
Increasingly, we’ve recognised that leadership development is a process that takes place over time (rather than as the outcome of a single event) and that the process should be integrated with day-to-day work.
So most traditional leadership development programmes are designed in modules with a series of training sessions followed by action projects to transfer the learning back into the workplace.
Now I’ve spent 20 years developing leaders in organisations and I too will recommend such an approach in certain situations. It is particularly effective if you want to change the culture of an established organisation and therefore want to train all leaders in a common set of skills and way of behaving so that changes start to ripple through the organisation.
But that’s not the case in a high-growth, high-change organisation. In these situations you need an approach that allows leaders to develop the skills that will have the greatest impact on their performance at that specific time and with minimal interruption and time away from the business.
That’s what I call Accelerated Leadership Development
The key is to stop seeing leadership development as something that is separate to the business; something that happens outside the workplace and then has to be transferred and applied in order to have an impact.
Instead, it’s about putting the leader and the challenges they’re facing at the heart of the development activity so that leadership development becomes integral to how they address the challenges and grow the business. It is during the challenging times that a leader learns most.
Every interaction, every conversation, and every piece of work is an opportunity for leaders to develop their skills. As they manage and grow the business and deliver value for clients and stakeholders, developing their leadership skills will help them reach higher performance.
In essence that means turning the workplace into the classroom, intentionally designing roles and assignments to create development opportunities. It also means providing the support and resources to help leaders identify, recognise and extract the learning from their experience. And finally it means providing access to knowledge, information and formal learning as and when leaders need it and in ways that they can integrate into their working lives.
The key premise of Accelerated Leadership Development is developing leadership skills by addressing leadership challenges in the workplace. But of course it’s not quite as simple as that. Some leaders tackle challenges every day but that doesn’t necessarily translate into them becoming better leaders.
So you need three elements to be in place for it to be effective.
1. Focus on one or two key leadership lessons at a time.
Accelerated Leadership Development relies on the leader being totally in tune with the development experience and highly focussed on the specific leadership skills they wish to develop and the actions and behaviours they’re taking to develop those skills.
This means the starting point of Accelerated Leadership Development is to focus on the one or two key leadership lessons that will really make a difference to performance and to plan and create the work tasks, projects and experiences which will give leaders the opportunities to learn those lessons.
2. Facilitate reflection and feedback.
You need to ensure that leaders make the most out of these experiences, by putting in place opportunities for people to understand what they’ve learned and how they came to learn it. Quality conversations with peers, coaches and mentors are critical to this process. They support reflection, provide feedback and add information just in time.
3. Provide access to supporting knowledge, information and formal learning.
The leader is then in a position to determine what knowledge, information or formal learning they need before engaging in those experiences or to address a gap identified as a consequence of the experience. This will determine what workshops, elearning, books etc comprise the “training” element of any leadership development plan.
Accelerated Leadership Development will help you develop the leaders you need to accelerate change and growth within the organisation. Download “Accelerated Leadership Development: How to Develop Future Leaders in High-Growth, High-Change Organisations” to discover how to get faster, more sustainable results from developing your leaders.