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Leadership development programs: Cultivating future leaders within your organization

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Every manager can execute the elements of a business plan, but it takes a leader to find the way out of a shattered plan. Only a leader can respond to an unforeseen change, challenge or crisis by envisioning a new path, rallying the team and leading the way to success. Today’s business owners and HR professionals must invest in leadership development to identify and cultivate the next generation of leaders from within their ranks.

In this article, we will delve into the significance of developing future leaders, exploring the key components that make a leadership development program successful and offering insights into how to create a robust framework for leadership development.

The Leadership Development Program Imperative

Effective leadership is the backbone of any successful organization. Leadership abilities provide the extra element that enables managers to guide teams, inspire innovation and navigate complex challenges.

However, a company’s roster of experienced leaders does not always align with the long-term needs of the organization for professional development and succession planning. This is where leadership development programs play a vital role. These programs bridge the gap between the current leaders and emerging leadership candidates, allowing for the maintenance of organizational culture and the continuity of the business.

Identifying Potential Leaders

The first step in cultivating new leaders is the identification of potential talent. A strategic approach involves a thorough assessment of employees across various levels. Some individuals naturally exhibit leadership skills, while others have potential that can be developed through the right leadership development initiatives. Consider using leadership competency models that outline the key leadership skills and traits required for leadership roles within your company culture.

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Required Competencies for an Effective Leader

The Academy to Innovate HR (AIHR) identifies 18 competencies that are required for effective leadership. These are critical skills that enable emerging leaders to lead an organization, to lead a team and to lead themselves.

Leading the Organization

Competencies that will enable future leaders to lead an organization include social intelligence, problem-solving, conflict management, decision-making, communication skills, change management, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Leading the Team

Competencies that will enable future leaders to lead a team include interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, coaching ability, trustworthiness, inclusiveness and people management.

Leading the Person in the Mirror

Competencies that will enable future leaders to lead themselves include learning agility, technical skills, industry expertise, self-discipline, courage in the face of adversity and positive citizenship behaviors.

Leadership potential often extends beyond conventional notions of management roles. Leadership positions can emerge in various departments and functions. A future leader may be currently employed as an executive or as a rank-and-file employee.

Finding Diamonds in the Rough

  • Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, started on the production line inspecting fenders
  • Doug McMillan, CEO of Walmart, was hired as a teen to unload trucks in Arkansas
  • Greg Wasson, former CEO of Walgreens, started as a pharmacy intern
  • Ursula Burns joined Xerox as an intern, then worked in engineering and rose to become the first black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company

HR professionals and business owners should create a comprehensive profile of leadership competencies that includes both hard and soft skills. This holistic approach helps ensure that the organization is not only identifying individuals with excellent technical abilities, but also those who possess strong emotional balance and interpersonal skills.

The Role of Company Culture

The culture of an organization plays a significant role in shaping the future leadership potential of its employees. A culture that encourages collaboration, innovation and continuous learning provides an ideal environment for nurturing future leaders. It is essential for HR professionals to align leadership development programs with the core values and mission of the company.

The Role of Senior Leaders

Business owners and C-suite executives have a key role to play in leadership training. These senior leaders must actively champion the importance of leadership development, setting an example for the rest of the organization. When leadership skills are valued and rewarded, employees are more likely to embrace development opportunities, knowing that their growth aligns with the overall goals of the company.

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Tailoring Leadership Development Initiatives

Once potential leaders are identified, tailor-made leadership programs become essential to their development. These programs should encompass a blend of executive education programs and on-the-job experiences to provide a well-rounded learning experience.

Effective leadership programs address both hard and soft skills. While hard skills encompass industry-specific knowledge and technical expertise, soft skills are equally vital. In fact, soft skills, including communication, emotional intelligence and adaptability, are often the distinguishing factors that set great leaders apart. Leadership training that combines theoretical learning with practical application ensures a comprehensive development experience.

Critical Steps for Leadership Development Success

An article from the Harvard Business Review outlines seven critical steps for leadership development success:

  1. Focus on whole-person growth. Qualities like integrity and resilience outrank technical skills.
  2. Provide opportunities for self-reflection. To clearly see others, self-knowledge is fundamental.
  3. Offer targeted programs to help manage stress. Leadership candidates often drive themselves hard.
  4. Use short, intense programs. Young leaders do not have time for a leisurely approach.
  5. Address psychological barriers to growth. Help candidates find and resolve constraints.
  6. Follow through for sustained growth. Short-term gains will fade unless they are reinforced.
  7. Embrace online learning. Training can take place anywhere and anytime that works for the learner.

In addition to these steps, here are a few more things to keep in mind when effectively developing leaders and creating a leadership development program.

Embrace Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is increasingly recognized as a critical component of effective leadership. Leaders with high emotional intelligence can navigate complex interpersonal dynamics, inspire teams and make sound decisions under pressure. HR professionals should integrate emotional intelligence assessments and training into leadership development programs to enhance the self-awareness and interpersonal skills of potential leaders.

Proactive Choice in Decision-Making

A recent Forbes article linked emotional intelligence with proactive decision-making. When a manager makes a decision influenced by an emotional response to a stimulus, they are in a passive role, being acted upon rather than acting. In contrast, a leader who has mastered their emotions will understand the situation, clearly see the other party and proactively choose a response based on what is best, rather than one which expresses their emotion.

Emotional intelligence is not only crucial for leading teams but also for fostering a positive organizational culture. Leaders who manage their emotions effectively set the tone for the entire workplace, influencing loyalty, employee engagement and job satisfaction.

Promoting Diversity in Leadership Development

A key aspect of effective leadership development is recognizing and promoting diversity. Diversity in leadership fosters a variety of perspectives and approaches, leading to more innovative solutions and better decision-making. HR professionals should actively seek out potential leaders from diverse backgrounds and ensure that leadership development programs are inclusive and accessible to all.

Diversity-Conscious Leadership is a Requirement

Research by the Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC) found that the links between group diversity and enhanced team capability are not automatic. Rather, they require diversity-conscious leadership to be effective.

Help With Navigating the Complexities

Creating mentorship programs that pair emerging leaders with seasoned executives can also contribute to a more diverse leadership pipeline. These relationships provide valuable guidance and support, helping individuals navigate the complexities of growing into a leadership role.

Measuring Leadership Development Program Success

As with any organizational initiative, it is essential to measure the success of leadership development programs. Key performance indicators (KPIs) may include the percentage of program participants who assume leadership roles, improvements in engagement and job satisfaction and the overall success of projects led by individuals who have been developing leadership skills through the program.

Below are just some ways business owners and HR professionals can measure the success of an effective leadership development program:

  • Identify key metrics for developing future leaders.
  • Measure qualitative metrics with internal surveys.
  • Compare KPIs before and after the program.
  • Test to determine how much candidates have learned.
  • Evaluate the program cost versus the results achieved.
  • Study the best leadership development programs.
  • Hire a consultant from the leadership development industry.
  • Create specific measures for desired leadership competencies.

Make sure that leadership development program metrics are relevant business goals that support strategic objectives such as replacing retiring leaders, retaining top talent, change management strategies or risk mitigation.

Regular feedback sessions, both formal and informal, can provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of the program and help identify areas for improvement. HR professionals should be agile in adjusting strategies based on participant feedback and evolving organizational needs. A dynamic approach helps ensure that leadership development programs remain relevant and deliver a long-term impact.

To learn more about how to measure the ROI of leadership development programs, check out this article by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM).

Leadership Development Programs: A Strategic Necessity

Cultivating future leaders within an organization is much more than a way to retain talent, boost loyalty and increase employee engagement. It is an investment in long-term success. By identifying potential leaders, aligning development initiatives with organizational culture and embracing leadership diversity, companies can build a robust leadership pipeline that will strengthen the company’s core, build continuity and toughen team resilience in the face of challenges.

Leadership development is more than training; it’s about creating a culture where learning and adaptability lead the way in building strong leaders. When HR professionals and business owners come together to shape and improve leadership programs, they’re not just boosting individual careers; they’re driving their whole organization forward. By nurturing new leaders, businesses of all sizes can stay ahead of the curve, leading with innovation and resilience.

Ready to take your team to the next level? Higginbotham can help. Our HR Services team can help you create a leadership program that fits your organizational goals and culture. Get in touch with a member of our team today.

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