Leadership Development Gaps Expose a Lack of Strategic Commitment
We close leadership gaps here at Bovo-Tighe. Our quarter-century’s experience doing this tells us that one big leadership gap is found in the way organizations foster leadership. Effective leadership development is not merely a function of the HR department, it is a core survival function within any organization: Too many organizations consider leadership development a tactical element of other strategic imperatives, rather than as a core strategic imperative in its own right.
Let’s bait the hook with the benefits of making deep, sustained leadership development a core cultural mindset:
- Higher retention rates
- Many more engaged employees contributing at higher levels each day
- A more agile, innovative enterprise, with all those more highly engaged employee leading the creative improvement process
Given the benefits, why do so many organizations still struggle to stay focused on leadership development? In an article in Chief Learning Officer magazine titled “Developing the Next Generation,” Kevin Grossman of Peoplefluent cites a consistent statistic:
“60% of all companies cite ‘leadership gaps’ as their top business challenge.”
Such an existential threat should galvanize organizations to embed leadership development as a core business need, yet most organizations still act as if it is a “nice to have,” leaving it to HR to implement it as best they can, while senior executives get on with the task of “running the business,” however defined.
We argue that not making leadership development a top senior executive priority, embedded in the culture and in their compensation plans, is a strategic disadvantage.
Jack Welch famously made the head of HR at GE one of his right-hand men or women, and put people/leader development as a top priority. People hoping to emulate his success should adopt that particular priority as one of the real keys to his success: It is far easier to achieve a mission when you have effective, engaged leaders following you who are developing leaders among their own followers, repeating that productive cycle all the way down to the front line where the customer is engaged and the money is made.
In his article, Kevin quotes Tim Jones, vice president of HR, talent and organizational effectiveness at ConAgra Foods:
“(W)hile it’s fairly easy to pull together a short list of successors at any leadership level and to create a development plan for those individuals, executing that development plan is tough. This is why senior leadership has to be committed to the learning and development plan as well as the time investment, which isn’t easy to do when running the day-to-day operations of the organization. This is what makes peer-enforced accountability so critical, and what can only be done when these individuals can learn and develop together.”
Leadership development is indeed a collaborative exercise:
- The organization must start early, and cast a broad net: Anyone can lead at any level, if trained, coached and mentored on “how.” The best organization assumes that all employees are potentially great leaders, if helped with making the mindset shift from task-oriented skill sets to people-oriented skill sets (these skills can be taught!)
- The “future leader” must be engaged in the process because he or she sees a personal benefit, whether that be advancement or simply consistent acknowledgement of work well done.
- The organization cannot stop developing leaders once it starts.
- Allow for, and encourage risk-taking. Children learn best by doing (with all the scraped knees and head bumps that come with it). Leaders do, too, so create an environment that can accept and learn from failure as a learning device.
Much is written about the struggle to develop “home-grown” leaders. Much remains to be done to achieve it in every organization. Embedding leadership development as a core strategic competitive advantage is the critical path to sustained success in developing and retaining the leaders you need now and in the future.
What do you think? Is your organization strategically committed to fostering leadership growth at all levels of your organization? Are the leadership gaps that are so easy to identify being addressed? How is that process going? What results have been gained? Are lessons learned and applied to make the program better?