Leadership : Leadership Development is Essential When Dealing With Change


Albert A. Vicere is executive education professor of strategic leadership at Penn State's Smeal College of Business, and president of Vicere Associates, Inc., a leadership consulting firm with clients around the globe.  He is one of the country's top leadership coaches, and is the author/editor of several books including Leadership By Design, The Many Facets of Leadership and more than 80 articles on leadership development and organizational effectiveness.

Visit Albert's website; www.vicere.com

The demand for leadership development and executive education is stronger than ever, especially given its recognized role as a catalyst to drive corporate performance. By all indications, corporations place great importance on this type of training and are spending huge amounts of money to cultivate leadership talent.

The reason for all this interest, according to a recent study by RHR International, a provider of leadership-development and coaching services, is that 75 percent of the organizations they surveyed were not confident that they had enough depth in leadership talent to deal with the upcoming baby-boomer retirements. And that says nothing about the need to develop leaders for future growth.

The irony is that both human-resource-management executives and line managers seem to have a poor perception of their own organization's leadership-development initiatives.

"Even at benchmark organizations, current practices are inconsistent. HR and training departments are faced with a large number of constraints that seem to block the evolution of effective executive education and leadership-development thrusts," says Scott Saslow of ExecSight and author of a recent report, "Transforming Corporate Leadership: Best Practices in Executive Education."

Among those constraints, Saslow lists a lack of alignment between leadership training and corporate goals, tight budgets and lack of time. These constraints can combine to keep leadership development on the periphery of an organization's strategic agenda.

Incremental improvements will not enable organizations to effectively meet the enormous challenge of preparing for the transition from baby-boom leaders. Saslow notes that leadership development "must undergo a transformation if it is to deliver on the requirements and expectations of today's organizations."

Through research of 28 Fortune 500 companies, Saslow found that best-practice organizations have a very entrepreneurial approach to how they design, deliver and evaluate executive education and leadership development. In fact, Saslow suggests that organizations manage executive education and leadership development as an internal startup, giving them free reign to assess customer demands, develop innovative approaches and deliver leadership development in new ways.

Saslow's idea has merit, especially since organizations are scampering to meet demand for leadership talent, and traditional approaches don't seem to be doing the job. But as you rethink your organization's approach to this challenge, there are four key actions that should drive even the most entrepreneurial leadership-development agendas:

1. Start by linking your organization's core objectives for leadership development to the strategic imperatives of your firm. This enables you to more effectively define critical competencies and capabilities, target key audiences, build networks to leverage performance, enhance communication and teamwork, refine organizational culture and implement competitive strategies.

2. Select methods and approaches to be used for leadership development that not only impart information and knowledge to participants, but also provide opportunities to put that knowledge to work in a feedback-rich learning environment. This should include team and/or task-force assignments, action learning projects, leader-led learning, coaching and other forms of dynamic, hands-on learning.

3. Build, maintain and assess strategic partnerships to help leverage and round out internal resources. I am a strong advocate of leader-led learning. where company executives play a major role in the development process. But I also know the value that "fresh eyes" and outside perspectives can bring to development initiative.

4. To leverage the impact of executive education and leadership-development investments, make sure those initiatives are tightly linked to your organization's performance metrics and human-resource-management processes.

This final step ensures relevance and impact for any development initiative. It's the best way to reinforce desired leader behaviors and capabilities, identify both good and problem performers and ultimately build a capable leadership talent pool. And in today's environment of change and transition, creating that talent pool may be an organization's most critical investment.

Ó Copyright Albert Vicere 2004

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