Leader Development: Can We Make It Go Faster?

speed2A question that I regularly hear from those responsible for leader development in organization is this: How can we accelerate the development of leaders?

When I dig underneath that question, I often hear an assumption that there is something yet to discover about development—a new element that, if added to the mix, will speed up the process.

No one needs to wait for new discoveries to achieve faster results. There’s a great deal already known about human learning and development, for example, the importance of stretch assignments, learning goals, developmental relationships, and regular feedback.

However, as we’ve examined best practices in experience-driven leader development, three key principles stand out about effective strategies to accelerate development:

  1. Customize learning experiences. Instead of sending everyone through the same courses, job rotations, or coaching initiatives, tailor learning experiences to target each leader’s development needs. Customization streamlines development for the individual, removing unnecessary elements and thus speeding it up. For example, at GE, a long-time user of job rotation programs to develop employees, they are experimenting with individualized rotations in the Corporate Leadership Staff program. Cross-functional assignments are selected according to the development needs of the individual. Length of assignments are also customized.
  2. Integrate work and learning. Don’t think of learning as being apart from work, but rather a natural part of work. More intentionally weaving the two together creates synergies and speeds up each one. To accelerate the development of leaders for their fastest-growing markets, Microsoft implemented a program that immerses participants in temporary assignments at corporate headquarters. The projects are real work that benefits from the knowledge participants bring from the field while broadening their perspective and network of relationships.
  3. Create concentrated periods of learning. Although learning is an ongoing, daily process, development can speed up when there are periods of focused learning. Concentrated learning is characterized by clear development intentions and multiple tactics to realize those intentions. IBM’s Corporate Service Corps is an intense six-month experience to develop socially responsible global leaders. It combines virtual training and team-building, 30 days in a developing country delivering consulting services with the team, and sharing lessons learned with colleagues back home.

Here’s the caveat: Although these strategies can accelerate development, let’s be realistic and perhaps even cautious. Becoming an expert at complex leadership tasks takes practice over time and across many situations. And there are downsides to pushing the gas pedal too hard, like moving people from assignment to assignment without enough time to experience the consequences of their actions or burning them out. Perhaps the growing edge of practice is a deeper understanding of how to best pace interventions that aspire to speed up the natural leader development that is happening all the time.

This post first appeared on The Conference Board’s Human Capital Exchange.

 

One thought on “Leader Development: Can We Make It Go Faster?”

  1. Great article Cindy. In reference to point 1, I would go a step further and say that individuals are best placed to define what are their true development needs, and what they think is the best way to help them to get there. So we need to give them the right opportunity to express what it is they need and make recommendations for how the employer (or others!) can support.

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