Accelerating leadership development

Accelerating Leadership Development Survey

Yes, we’ll gain an extra hour as we set our clocks back in the wee hours of November 4, but don’t let the end of Daylight Savings Time lull you into a false sense of security. It’s a mighty slim window of opportunity to make up for lost time.

Capitalizing on the use of time seems to be on everyone’s agenda. Students are advised to accelerate their studies for early college admissions. Boomers are urged to accelerate their savings for retirement. And organizations are focusing on accelerating the development of their future leaders.

Leadership development for high-potentials

The ramp-up time for creating a ready executive can take years. That’s why we’re seeing so much interest in “high-potential” programs. Companies want to know:

  • How do we identify high-potential employees
  • Should we inform them of their status?
  • What features should we include in a high-potential development program?
  • What organizational factors influence the success of such programs and which tend to hinder them?

A survey launched last week by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) will provide insight into those questions and more. It also explores the tools that high-performing organizations (HPOs) use for developing executive leaders and the budgets associated with such programs. If that sounds like some valuable insights to have, participate in the survey and receive a free summary report once the results are collected.

Approaches to executive leadership development

Research from i4cp shows that most organizations invest in leadership development programs, often with a standardized curriculum, with three primary goals in mind:

  1. Build bench strength and prepare successors
  2. Anticipate and develop competencies that will be required in the future
  3. Retain and motivate both high potentials and solid careerists
But interest also runs high in determining the most effective approaches for developing talent for executive-level positions of vice-president and above. For these, more meaningful developmental experiences may be in order:
  • Inclusion in critical meetings
  • Working on special project teams
  • Participation on global task forces
  • Cross-business unit assignments
  • Cross-functional teams/assignments
  • 2–3 year international assignment

A suggested leadership development timeline

While there may not be a magic formula for the sequence of leadership development events, a June Harvard Business Review article by Michael D. Watkins laid out a suggested timeline of developmental activities and assignments for moving talent from management-level to leader-level roles.
  • Early career experiences might include working on cross-functional projects, international assignments and getting a feel for a wide variety of business environments, such as start-ups, high growth or realignments.
  • Mid-career approaches might include a senior-level role, leading an acquisition and gaining exposure to key external constituents.
  • Readiness for a major promotion might be indicated following a formal executive development program and then placement in a small, successful unit.

Accelerating the path to leadership

The reason leadership development needs to accelerate is that change continues to accelerate. According to i4cp’s Agility Study, accelerating change and growing inter-dependence are continually raising the bar for the level of agility needed for sustained competitive advantage.

An effective strategy for accelerating the development of leaders is one that provides a combination of structured opportunities for formal learning along with unstructured opportunities for experiential learning. DDI’s study on The CEO’s Role in Talent Management: How top executives from ten countries are nurturing the leaders of tomorrow includes this quote from Michael Critelli, previous CEO of Pitney Bowes: “The best kind of development is putting someone in a job that tests them where they haven’t been tested before.”

But i4cp’s recent Talent Management in the Trenches study reports that even HPOs may not be doing all they can in that regard. Just 38% of respondents from HPOs said their firms are providing appropriate development experiences for those with the potential to move into key roles, whereas 95% of respondents from HPOs said they should be providing such experiences.

Clearly, the stakes are high for developing an executive team with deep leadership capabilities, and doing so more quickly than peer organizations can help provide and sustain a competitive edge. This Sunday, you’ll have one extra hour to begin that acceleration.